Employees and patients of the Philippine Orthopedic Center ask Health Secretary Janette Garin to stay true to her word that she will block the private takeover of the hospital.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Employees, health workers, and patients of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) challenged acting Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Janette Garin to convince President Aquino to rescind the contract between the government and Megawide Corporation if she is truly against the privatization of the only orthopedic hospital in the country.
Sean Herbert Velchez, president of the POC employees union said in a press conference on Friday, March 6 that Garin said in their recent dialogue that she does not want the privatization of public hospitals and categorically stated that she will stop the private takeover of the POC.
Velchez, however, added, “This does not give us any assurance that the people’s welfare will be prioritized. And this is an indication, if the POC privatization through Public-Private Partnership continues.”
Hundreds of POC employees, health workers, patients and their relatives were present during the press conference to show their unity against the POC Modernization Project. Velchez commended his co-workers, especially those from the nurse’s department, for showing support in their fight for POC to remain a hospital for the poor.
Violeta Manlapa, 57, a nursing supervisor also commended Velchez’s diligence. “Good thing that our union president is very hard-working in this campaign. From the very start he stood not only for our welfare but also the welfare of poor Filipinos,” she told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
President Aquino approved the concession agreement for the POC modernization in November 2013, amid the disaster-response in the wake of typhoon Yolanda.
TRO not granted
Velchez said the Supreme Court did not grant their petition for temporary restraining order but their petition for certiorari and prohibition against the POC’s modernization project is now proceeding at the high court. Velchez and other cause oriented groups filed a petition at the Supreme Court in February 2014.
He said it is now crucial that they mobilize and go to the SC to ensure that decision will favor the poor and the whole POC community.
“No one among us will get rich in this struggle. The true winners here, once the SC decides to grant our petition for certiorari, are the poor,” Velchez said.
He added that indigent patients of the POC comprise not only 50 percent but 80 percent of its patients. He pointed out that even if employed, once a patient starts paying for their medicines and other medical procedures, the cost of expenses could pull them down to indebtedness.
Eleazar Sobinsky, president of the Lung Center of the Philippines Employees Association, meanwhile encouraged POC employees to stand firm in their struggle. He said they are also fighting the same struggle in 1998 during the term of former President Fidel V. Ramos. “He wanted to privatize the LCP but with our strong opposition, it did not push through.”
But the management always has a second plan, Sobinsky said. “They can set the hospital on fire.” He said that in 1998, fire broke out in the LCP and they suspected that the fire was set on purpose.
Up to now, Sobinsky said the part of LCP hospital that was burned remains unrepaired almost 20 years after the incident. He said after the fire, the cost services in the government-owned and controlled corporations are not anymore affordable for the poor.
Accoding to the Bidding Documents and Bulletins, after the modernization of the POC is completed, the hospital will allocate only 70 beds for indigent patients and 420 for sponsored (Philhealth) patients – compared to the current 562 beds or 85 percent capacity for indigent patients. The new management would have an option not to accommodate more poor patients if the 70 beds are already occupied.
The POC employees also face the possibility of losing their jobs. The contract makes the workforce private, such that those who wish to remain in government service have to transfer to another DOH hospital. Those who choose to stay at POC are not assured that they will be absorbed.
Velchez said the union members, together with the POC management and employees vowed to intensify their protest. They are set to put up barricades at the gates of DOH on Monday, March 9 and hold a sit-down strike on March 13.