“This coalition is not against the modernization of the hospital. This coalition is against the privatization of the POC because it will deprive poor Filipinos of free and accessible health care.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA –The privatization of government hospitals has got to stop. This is the statement of the broad alliance of health workers, professional health attendants, urban poor, women, workers and religious sisters united against the privatization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center. They have formed a coalition to strengthen their call against the privatization of the POC and other government hospitals.
The POC is the first Public Private Partnership project under the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III. Pre-bidding for the “modernization” of the POC was held last Jan. 25. The deadline of submission of bidding was last March 26 while the evaluation of bidders will be on April 26. There are nine prospective bidders for the POC’s “modernization” project; the GE Electric Philippines Inc., Megawide Engineering Excellence, Metro Pacific Investments, Philips Electronic and Lighting Inc., Siemens, Inc – Health Sector, Strategic Alliance Holding, Inc. NihhonSekkei, Inc./Data Trail Corp., Mount Grace Hospital Ventures and Sta. Clara International Corporations. The winning bidder will build and operate the new POC for 25 years.
“While everybody is busy for the upcoming elections, we are holding this press conference to once again press the government to stop the privatization of the only hospital in the Philippines specializing in bone illnesses,” said Sean Velchez in a press conference, Thursday, April 18. Velchez is the president of the POC employees union and head convener of the Coalition against privatization of POC. He is also a registered nurse working for the POC for six years.
The Coalition against privatization of POC was also formally launched
during the press conference. The Coalition was formed to strengthen the people’s voice against the privatization, in the guise of “modernization” of POC and also other public hospitals.
Modernization, sole responsibility of the government
“This coalition is not against the modernization of the hospital. This coalition is against the privatization of the POC because it will deprive poor Filipinos of free and accessible health care,” said Velchez. He said the modernization of government hospitals is a sole responsibility of the government. In POC’s case, the “modernization” of the said hospital will be funded by a foreign company whose main objective is to rake in profits.
Velchez further said that the government has passed on its full responsibility to improve and modernize government hospitals to foreign companies.
“Last year, Aquino has signed the contract for the ‘modernization’ of the POC. The modernization of the new orthopedic hospital will be funded by the winning bidder which is a private company. The only government counterpart on the said modernization project is the property where the new orthopedic hospital will be built,” Velchez explained.He added that there is nothing wrong with the modernization of government hospitals; however, the government should be the one doing it and not private firms. By doing so, he said, it is essentially privatizing the government hospital because the main concern of private companies is their “return on investment.”
Therefore, he said, it is an abdication by the government of its social responsibility to the people.
“PPP is meant to generate profits for companies,” said former World Health Organization chief nurse scientist Amelia Mangay – Maglacas. She said she is retired but not tired, and would still be taking action and speaking up against issues concerning nurses and the people.
“There are many lessons about privatization in other countries. Did the government not learn (from it)?” she said in the press conference.
She added that health care services in the country is inaccessible for the poor. “The Universal Health Care program of the government has been reduced to enrolling some sections of the poor to Philhealth which is actually not much of a help to patients,” she said referring to the limited coverage of the government’s health insurance.
“I am angry, mad, and we must speak up against this issue,” Maglacas said.
Meanwhile, Velchez also expressed concern on the plight of POC’s health workers. “There is no assurance from the Department of Health on what will happen to us. The 1,101 health workers will not be spared from massive retrenchment, contractualization, lesser income and no benefits.”
“With the privatization of government hospitals, the contractualization of nurses and other health workers will worsen. The wages and benefits will be further reduced resulting to further demoralization among our ranks,” said Eleanor Nolasco, RN, the founding president of Narsng Bayan.
Unite against privatization
“Life is important. We all get sick. We also have relatives who are also patients. If poor patients will not be able to afford their hospitalization, what will happen to them?” said Velchez.
The coalition pledged to launch protest actions against the privatization of POC in the next few days. They also announced a bigger protest action on the 26th where health workers of the orthopedic hospital will hold a massive walk out at exactly 12:00 noon. Velchez clarified that they will not abandon their duty to their patients in the POC. “Our patients are like our relatives because of the duration of their confinement. They are confined at least three months until they are healed. We will not abandon them. We will have a system that will take care of them while we conduct our protest action outside the hospital.” He reiterates that the protest action is for their interest too. Patients will also hold noise barrages inside the hospital.
The protest action will be joined by different sectors as well as patients in the POC.
Meanwhile, member groups of the coalition vow to strongly oppose the privatization of the POC and other government hospitals.
“While we support the DOH’s universal health care program as well as the modernization of POC, however, they must carefully study the consequences of their plans,” said Leonardo Nuestro, executive director of Philippine Nurses Association (PNA). He said that PNA is also concerned about the security of tenure of health care workers including nurses.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary (ICM) Congregation also pledged to oppose the privatization of the POC. “Our congregation sincerely extends our hands to stop the sale of POC, because we know that our poor countrymen will suffer once it will be privatized especially that it is the only the public hospital for bone diseases and trauma,” said Sr. Consuelo Varela, of the ICM.
Optometrist Gina Peralta, a volunteer doctor of urban poor organization Kadamaysaid that under the administration of Aquino, the poverty rate has increased from 10 to 23 percent. “While the poor struggles to live each day with their meager salaries, the government on the other hand makes health services unaffordable for the poor.” She added that since not all the poor are automatically enrolled as Philhealth members, to enroll voluntarily in Philhealth is costly for them.
“Privatization is not new. This has been tried by the previous administrations. However under Aquino, the push for privatization is intensifying also because of the global economic crisis,” said Dr. Eleanor A. Jara, spokeswoman of the Network Opposed to Privatization (NOP). She added that with the worsening economic crisis, financial institutions are finding ways to gain profits and the delivery of social services is one option.
Jara said the NOP supports the move of various organizations to stop by all means the “sale” of POC because this is an irresponsible action by the Aquino government for it will deprive thousands of poor patients suffering from bone ailments.
“Mark your calendars on the 26th for a whole day protest action against the privatization of POC. Different health workers’ unions also expressed their support and will join the protest on the 26th,” Velchez said.