“We call on all health workers and the Filipino people to continue the tradition of militancy that brought us the gains and victories in our fight for jobs, salaries and rights. Let us continue the struggle toward a just, healthy and sovereign society.”
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By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – On May 7, women and men in their white uniforms marched from España avenue to Chino Roces (formerly Mendiola) bridge to mark National Health Workers’ Day.
They were carrying banners opposing the privatization of government hospitals that would affect not only their security of tenure but also the access of the poor to health care services.
It was in 2010 when Republic Act 10069 or An Act Declaring May 7 of every year as National Health Workers’ Day was approved. May 7 is also the 30th anniversary of the Alliance of Health Workers, a progressive national organization of health workers’ unions.
During the commemoration of National Health Workers’ Day and the AHW’s 30th anniversary, health workers in public and private hospitals vowed to continue the struggle the AHW started in 1984.
“Back then, when the government planned to abolish the QI [Quezon Institute], health workers united to oppose it. The health workers succeeded in their struggle (to stop the abolition of QI) and then afterwards the AHW was formed,” Jossel Ebesate, national president of the AHW, said during a program in Chino Roces Bridge. The QI is a tertiary hospital that specializes in the treatment of tuberculosis.
“Since then, organizing health workers in the government sector began, even reaching to other hospitals in the regions,” Ebasate told Bulatlat.com.
Upholding health workers rights and peoples’ right to health
Ebesate said the AHW advances not only health workers’ rights but also the peoples’ right to health.
“It was proven when AHW’s first president the late Mindaluz Quesada worked for the inclusion in the 1987 Philippine Constitution of the peoples’ right to health. It is under section 15, Article II on State Policies: ‘The State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them.’”
Quesada was a former member of the Constitutional Commission, which was formed during the administration of the late president Corazon Aquino. Ebesate said Quesada, the lone representative of the health sector in the Constitutional Commission, was one of those appointed by Aquino to draft the 1987 Philippine Constitution along with other 50 Commissioners.
She was also a registered nurse and a staunch advocate of health workers’ rights and the peoples’ right to health. Under her term as president of the AHW, Quesada fought against anti-health workers policies such as House Bill No. 5007 which bans doctors and nurses from holding strikes. Quesada served as president of the AHW from 1984 to the 1990s. She died of cancer in 1995.
One of the victories gained by health workers in their struggles is the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers or RA 7305. However, according to Ebesate, the mandated benefits under the RA 7305 are being violated by the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III.
Salary increases were also attained through the collective action of health workers.
Remedios Ysmael, former president of the Tondo Medical Center Employees Union-AHW and treasurer of the AHW national executive committee said, “No one in the government, from members of the Congress, Senate, not even one President sat down with us and gave us what we needed voluntarily. We fought and lobbied for our wage increase,” Ysmael told Bulatlat.com. She said she started to work at Tondo Medical Center in 1976 with a salary of P7 ($.16) a day.
The AHW also steadfastly campaigned against privatization of government hospitals, one of which is the planned sale of land where the National Center for Mental Health sits in Mandaluyong City. It was during the administration of the late dictator president Ferdinand Marcos when the government first planned to sell 118 hectares in Welfareville, the land where the NCMH stands. The AHW also steadfastly campaigned against the privatization, in the guise of modernization, of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC), which has now been awarded to the consortium of Megawide Construction Corporation and World Citi. The health workers, along with some patients, filed a petition for Temporary Restraining Order against the modernization project last Feb. 3 at the Supreme Court.
Attempts to overthrow AHW
Due to its critical stance on government policies affecting poor patients and health workers, Ebesate said there have been attempts by some to remove progressive leaders of health workers unions and to disaffiliate unions of health workers from AHW.
One such groups that has been working against AHW is the Unyon ng mga Kawani ng Kagawaran ng Kalusugan Sentral (UKKKS), a pro-management union under the Department of Health union.
“There was an instance sometime in 2008 when the UKKKS defeated the union at the National Kidney Transplant Institute in a certification election. During the time they controlled the recognized union, the UKKKS did nothing on the issues confronting health workers and patients. Now the NKTI employees union is once again affiliated with the AHW,” Ebesate told Bulatlat.com.
In fact, Ebesate said the UKKKS, now called as National DOH Employees Association (NDEA), has been “an accomplice to the rationalization plan at the DOH.
“At the Batangas Regional Hospital, the UKKKS won and wanted to disaffiliate the union from the AHW. But the employees, in a general assembly, did not agree because they know for a fact that the AHW truly upholds the rights of the health workers,” Ebesate added.
“It is only right that we are at the forefront of our struggle because we work closely with the patients. We know what they are going through and their situation. These are the things that Health Secretary Enrique Ona, Undersecretary Ted Herbosa and the President himself do not know because they are only confined in their air conditioned offices,” Sean Velchez, a registered nurse and president of the National Orthopedic Hospital Health Workers Union-AHW (NOHWU-AHW), said.
Unwavering commitment to defend health workers’ rights
“Despite all the hardships, we, health workers pledge to continue to serve the Filipino people,” Ebesate, also a chief nurse at the Philippine General Hospital, said.
Mark Maglangit, 48, a nursing assistant at the Philippine Heart Center and public relations officer of the employees union said the AHW helped him become aware of his rights as a health worker. “As a government employee we were anxious then that joining protest actions would result in our dismissal; but with the AHW, we get to understand that it is our right to also express our grievances.”
Ysmael, who has retired from service, is still active in organizing public health workers. “It is still in my heart to continue the struggle that we started way back in 1984 because nothing really changed much since then,” she told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
“We call on all health workers and the Filipino people to continue the tradition of militancy that brought us the gains and victories in our fight for jobs, salaries and rights. Let us continue the struggle toward a just, healthy and sovereign society,” Ebesate said.