“We, the health workers from different hospitals are one with the call of the Rx Abolish Pork Barrel System Movement to take the fight to the streets, schools, churches.” – Sean Velchez, president of the National Orthopedic Hospital Workers Union-AHW (NOHWU-AHW)
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Health workers and professionals expressed dismay over the immediate killing of the impeachment complaint last Sept. 2 in the House of Representatives. They said the bases of the impeachment complaints were valid but political patronage prevailed in an institution that supposedly represents the people.
“The dismissal of the complaints only proves that we can never rely on Congress in our battle against the corrupt bureaucracy and imperialist dictates. The overwhelming vote to dismiss the complaints is a manifestation of a decaying legislative branch conniving with their executive master who made a mess with the public funds,” said Jossel Ebesate, president of the Alliance of Health Workers.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Sept. 3, health workers and professionals under the Rx Abolish Pork Barrel System Movement vowed to support and to steadfastly campaign for the People’s Initiative against the Pork Barrel System.
“We are one of the petitioners in the impeachment complaint filed against Aquino. We filed this complaint so that we can make him accountable on where DAP funds were spent but his allies in Congress were quick in covering up the President’s sins by immediately junking the impeachment complaints,” said Ebesate.
“We, the health workers from different hospitals are one with the call of the Rx Abolish Pork Barrel System Movement to take the fight to the streets, schools, churches,” said Sean Velchez, president of the National Orthopedic Hospital Workers Union-AHW (NOHWU-AHW).
DAP took health sector funds
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmeres said during the hearing that with DAP, billions of funds were taken away by Aquino totaling more than P157 billion ($3.568 billion) from programs, activities and projects allocated by the Congress and the General Appropriations Act.
Colmenares said that for three years, funds were taken away and put into the DAP: in 2011, P83.5 billion ($1.915 billion); in 2012, P58.7 billion ($1.346 billion) and in 2013, P13.5 billion ($309 million). He said hundred thousands of government employees were denied their benefits and funds for public hospitals and schools and other important services.
Ebesate said through National Budget Circular No. 541 which seeks to withdraw “unobligated allotments of agencies,” Aquino took away funds from the different programs of the Department of Health (DOH), such as the doctors to the barrios and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases, and used it for projects under DAP.
Ebesate added that with DAP, public hospitals also suffer from lack of hospital beds. “We have reached a population of 100 million but the hospital beds remains at 94,000. At least 106,000 more hospital beds are needed for public hospitals in the whole country.”
Eleazar Sobinsky, president of the Lung Center of the Philippines Employees Association – AHW lambasted the P70 million ($1.606 million) stem cell research project funded by DAP. “We strongly opposed this because poor patients will not benefit from this project. How can the government say that DAP benefitted the poor? A stem cell therapy costs P100,000 to P1 million ($2,700 to $22,700). How can the poor afford this?”
Sobinsky said poor patients who are often rushed to the emergency room do not have money to pay for their hospitalization. “Many poor patients could not be admitted because bed-for-service patients are lacking. We also lack equipment. The P70 million could have been spent in building rooms for the service patients so we can have space for them.”
Velchez also blasted the privatization schemes pushed by the government, saying that instead of improving government hospitals using public funds, it passed on the responsibility to private companies.
“DAP funds proves that the government still have money to modernize and repair the deteriorating condition of the country’s public hospitals. The Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC), which is under the government’s Public-Private Partnership program, can therefore be modernized without the intervention of a private company.”
Velchez cited the as an epitome of privatization gone wrong. “Look at what is happening at the MRT right now. Government now has to spend more to be able to take over its operations. Most probably, this will also be the fate of the POC and the 72 government hospitals that this government plans to privatize,” Velchez said.
Edward Malzan, Vice President of the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA), said that due to the working condition of nurses in the Philippines, most have opted to leave the country. “Nurses are the largest number of health workers, composing 80 percent, but only few nurses render service in our country especially in government hospitals. This is due to low salary, contractualization and worsening working conditions.”
He said the current nurse-patient ratio is 1:60 in public hospitals, when it should be one nurse for 12 patients.
Ebesate also said the DOH’s ideal ratio of nurses in rural health units is one nurse for every 5,000 population. But the current ratio is one nurse to 20,000 population.
“In a mental health facility in Bicol, one nurse is servicing 250 patients. That is how dire the situation of nurses is in our health facilities,” Ebesate said.
Velchez also said the 2013 data from the Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) shows that of the 65,000 registered doctors, 500,000 registered nurses and 75,000 registered midwives in the country, not more than 3,000 doctors, 5,000 nurses and 20,000 midwives are practicing in government hospitals.
Malzan also said there are about 200,000 nurses working abroad not including those who are not documented by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.
“Nurses servicing in our government hospitals are getting fewer while patients in government hospitals are getting bigger every year,” Malzan said. “That is why there were cases of accidental medicine switching; wrong medication was unintentionally given to a patient because the nurse is already ‘toxic.’ Imagine nursing 60 or more patients a day?”
Ebesate blamed contractualization in government hospitals, saying that despite the fact that there are thousands of nursing graduates passing the board exam and looking for a job, they do not opt to work in a government hospital because no regular items are being opened by the DOH.
“The DOH would brag about the 22,000 nursing positions they opened but these are contractual nurses,” Ebesate said. He added that due to the rationalization plan, there are 11,000 unfilled positions in DOH. These are the administrative positions where employees have already retired. He said the DOH can transform it to plantilla items for doctors, dentists, nurses and other health professionals.
With worsening working conditions, nurses are also suffer from low wages. Malzan lamented that despite Republic Act 9173 or Philippine Nursing Act which states under Section 32, “In order to enhance the general welfare, commitment to service and professionalism of nurses the minimum base pay of nurses working in the public health institutions shall not be lower than salary grade 15.”
Malzan said nurses are still pegged at salary grade 11 or at least P25,000 ($414). “That is why we are disappointed with DAP because the money spent for projects that we see as government’s least priority, could have been spent on the health professionals’ salary upgrade.”
Velchez also slammed Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone who said during the impeachment hearing that health workers benefitted through DAP and has created work for RN Heals nurses.
“Not in our name, Evardone.” Velchez said. “Over our dead bodies. Do not use us, health workers and the whole health sector as a deodorizer for this dirty and abhorrent DAP because none of us benefitted from it.”
He added that Health Secretary Enrique Ona’s claim that the DAP was used for salaries for the nurse deployment program and RN Heals is not even true. “These nurses are contractual nurses receiving P8,000 ($184) a month with no benefits but is doing the work of a regular nurse just to have a line item in the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) and DOH.”
Dr. Joseph Carabeo, co-convener of the Rx Abolish Pork Barrel Movement criticized Aquino: “Stop acting like Robin Hood. Taking funds from different agencies and using it for projects that they say benefit the poor. Let us look where the DAP funds were spent. It was spent for payment for Hacienda Luisita and worse, to bribe congressmen and local government units.”
People’s Initiative centers in hospitals
Velchez pointed out, “Seven out of 10 Filipinos die without seeing a doctor, 70,000 children below five years old die due to illness every year, and there are 11 mothers dying every day due to complications during pregnancy. This is not our data, these are data gathered by the government, of former DOH secretaries, Esperanza Cabral and Jaime Galvez Tan.”
Velchez said with DAP that was wrongfully spent in projects that supposedly will boost the economy, there is more probability that this will soon increase.
They said People’s Initiative is a step to abolish all forms of pork barrel system in the country. “Through the People’s Initiative, a bill was drafted by the people with the guidance of a pool of legal personalities. This bill aims to abolish the presidential and congressional pork barrel and also defines what is savings. This bill will also penalize violators with six years to 10 years imprisonment and disqualification from holding office. An accountability that we are all calling for,” said Carabeo.
Doctor Eleanor Jara, co-convener of the Rx Abolish Pork Barrel Movement said there is a need for the people to push for justice and accountability after the Congress scrapped the impeachment complaint. “The impeachment complaint was a parliamentary weapon to remove politicians that arranged the DAP, as well as prevent future forms of pork barrel. The death of the impeachment complaint is proof of Aquino allies’ mockery of the Constitution, an existing rubber stamp politics, and their desire to revive the pork barrel system. The situation worsens since the pork barrel system can be revived in another form once Aquino is allowed another term.”
“We are here today expressing our disgust with what happened last Tuesday because we are also citizens of this country. Aside from taking care of sick patients, we, the health workers and professionals should also care for our nation,” said Carabeo.