Progressive health groups still pin hope on the resumption of the GRP-NDFP peace talks to bring in reforms in health service.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — When President Rodrigo Duterte cancelled the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), several progressive organizations were saddened because it came just when the talks were gaining headway to address “gut issues.”
“Nakakapanghinayang,” said Dr. Joseph Carabeo, secretary general of Health Alliance for Democracy (Head) at the abrupt scrapping of the talks. He told Bulatlat the peace talks provided a venue to discuss the roots of social and economic problems and to unite on solutions.
One reason the progressive health groups still hope that both parties will return to the negotiation table is for the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser), which they hope will lead to reforms in health service.
At the third round of talks held in Rome, Italy in January, the Reciprocal Working Committees on Social and Economic Reforms (RWC- SER) of both GRP and the NDFP have exchanged their respective drafts of Caser.
The talks had gained ground, as both parties substantially agreed on three parts of the Caser: Part I on the Preamble and Declaration of Principles; Part II on the Bases, Scope and Applicability; and Part III on the Desired Outcome.
The parties had also began discussion on Part IV on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, on which they “reached common understanding on the general features of the agrarian problems in the Philippines and agreed in principle to the free distribution of land to farmers and farm workers as the governing framework of Caser,” read the joint statement of the GRP and the NDFP.
According to the joint statement the RWCs-SER of the two parties are set to meet and accelerate the discussion of the drafts, to complete the agreement within the year.
On Feb. 7, the group Prescription for Peace organized a forum to discuss the contents of the NDFP’s draft of Caser which contains the People’s Agenda for Change drafted by different sectors. The same was submitted to the GRP in June last year.
An NDFP peace consultant was the supposed speaker at the forum, but was understandably not able to attend, in the wake of the President’s order to have them arrested.
In place of a resource speaker, health workers and members of the health community shared updates on the recent talks in Rome and discussed what they can contribute to make the both Parties resume the negotiations.
“Resolving war does not mean just cessation of hostilities and ceasefire. There is a reason why peasants and workers take up arms and this is what must be addressed to attain genuine peace,” said Dr. Gene Nisperos, vice chairman of Head.
What is in the Caser for the people’s right to health?
Provisions in the draft NDFP Caser aims to make social services more accessible to the poor, and will reverse existing state policies in the health sector, such of privatization of health service, and contractualization of health workers. If signed, this would nullify the privatization of government hospitals, which progressive health groups have opposed for the past 30 years.
Article XI of the draft said, “The GRP shall reverse its policy of privatizing social services and public utilities which has made these vital services expensive and inaccessible to the working people.”
“It shall assume responsibility for directly providing social services to the working people, for improving the quality of such services, and for promoting the rights and welfare of those who provide these services. Utilities are vital and strategic enterprises that shall be publicly-owned and operated,” it added.
Article XIII, entitled “Right to health,” emphasizes that the government should be the main provider of health services, which should be provided for free “in primary, secondary, and tertiary health care levels.”
The budget for the public health system should be increased to improve and expand government services. Caser also prohibits private hospitals from collecting exorbitant fees.
The draft Caser also singled out the government-owned and controlled corporation, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), which has been government’s way to socialize medical care in the past two decades.
“The GRP shall veer away from privatized market-based health insurance schemes such as PhilHealth,” said Caser’s Article XIII.
More than just treating patients, Caser also aims for prevention of diseases, and mandates the development of community-based comprehensive primary health care that “provides quality health services and also address nutrition, access to water, housing, education, employment and livelihoods, and other social determinants of health.”
The Caser will also develop and promote traditional, alternative and indigenous healing practices which have been proven scientifically beneficial to patients, and are part of community practices. It said both parties must “protect them from foreign appropriation such as under intellectual property rights regimes, and protect them from undue competition with imported medicines.”
On the issue of drug addiction, the Caser recognizes drug abuse as a health issue “that should be treated as such.”
“This includes implementing measures such as but not limited to setting up an effective and adequate rehabilitation program,” said the draft.
Caring for the health workers
The Caser also gives importance to the welfare of health workers, medical and non-medical personnel. In Section 5 the Caser mandates both Parties to ensure that they “receive living wages and salaries, get adequate benefits, work decent hours in human work conditions, and have security of employment.”
The health workers shall also be given free training and other support to develop their knowledge and skills and improve the quality of health care.
By improving the work conditions and wages of health workers, there will be less people resorting to find better work abroad.
National industrialization can contribute to Philippine pharmaceutical industry
Carabeo said that the Caser is crucial for the strengthening of industries, such as those producing basic chemicals, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. He said that among the country’s wealth are medicinal plants, which are not being tapped locally. He cited one medicine for cancer the chemical ingredient of which is sourced from the Philippines and being processed in Japan. He said the medicine is being sold here at a prohibitive price.
Carabeo said there are various plants here that can be a potential medicine, even molds in wood in the forests. However, the Philippines lacks the technology to process it, as well as do the research. He said a developed chemical industry is needed to turn these into a medicine.
“The capability of our pharmaceutical industry is only at the level of packaging, while the patents and ownership of research, including new discoveries, are in the hands of foreign companies,” he said.
Carabeo said progressives believe that health is not only being free from illnesses, but also having a wholesome life, including having control of socio-economic and political decision making. That is why, he said, they were heartened that the peace talks were proceeding to solutions to long-term health and economic woes of the Filipino people.