“Eventually, no matter how the DOH strongly denies it, the POC will turn into a private corporation and thus, can no longer provide free nor affordable health services for the people, especially the majority poor.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The final bidding for the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC), which has been extended several times before, was moved again from May 24 to June 4, as per bidding bulletin no. 19 released by the Modernization of Philippine Orthopedic (MPOC) Pre-qualification, Bids and Awards Committee (PBAC). This was announced as different health and patients organizations, as well as urban poor residents, held a protest action in front of the Orthopedic hospital in Banawe, Quezon City last May 24, Friday. The protesters wore black armbands and hanged streamers bearing “No to the Sale” on the walls of the Orthopedic Center. Their call is loud and clear: “Health, a basic right of the people! (Health) Service, not profits! No to Sale of POC!”
The bidding of the government hospital began January this year. It is being presided over by the PBAC headed by Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Teodoro J. Herbosa.
“Ironically, while the DOH never admitted that the POC is up for sale, Undersecretary Herbosa publicly declared the extension of the bidding of the POC. This shows the callousness of the DOH to the people’s plight,” the president of the POC employees union, Sean Velchez, said.
The alliance against privatization has been protesting the sale of the orthopedic hospital as well as 25 other government hospitals. The group reiterated that the said “modernization” of the POC is actually outright privatization. The group cited, as example of the impact of privatization, hospitals that are government-owned and-controlled corporations (GOCC) such as the Philippine Heart Center (PHC), National Kidney Transplant Institute (NKTI), Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP) and Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC), which have increased tremendously rates of services. They also cited the reduced allotment for charity beds at the PHC, from 70 to 20 percent.
“This (extension of submission of bidding) clearly shows how unreliable government statements are specifically regarding the truth about the PPP [public-private partnerships] in the health sector. During the height of our information campaign on the government’s privatization of hospitals, the DOH called us ‘hard-headed’ and ‘a small group that refuses to understand,’ but whatever accusation they throw at us, we health workers will always stand for the people’s right to health. We firmly believe that privatization will deprive the people, especially the poor, of much needed health care,” said Velchez.
The Bid Bulletin No. 16, which was released by the MPOC-PBAC, states that “The project proponent shall have the exclusive right to undertake, collect fees, and derive revenue from the Project Services. For Sponsored and Indigent Patients, the pricing of Project Services, including supplies and medicines, shall be comparable to government owned and controlled corporate hospitals; provided that for Pay patients, the Project Proponent shall have the discretion to determine the pricing for the Project Services, supplies and medicines.”
Velchez also criticized the government for allowing the project proponent (prospective bidders) to not recognize the existing employees union at the POC. “That is in violation of the Executive Order No. 180, (Providing Guidelines for the Exercise of the Right to Organize of Government Employees, Creating a Public Sector Labor-Management Council, and for other purposes). Why would they not recognize this prevailing law? Clearly because what the government intends to do is outright privatization,” Velchez told Bulatlat.com.
In the said Bid Bulletin No. 16: “The POC has an existing union (National Orthopedic Hospital-Alliance of Health Workers). The Project proponent is not under obligation to recognize the existing employees association, subject to existing labor and Civil Service laws.”
Jossel Ebesate, president of the Alliance of Health Workers, pointed out that through the “modernization” of the POC, the corporation that wins the bid, will be made to finance P5.43 billion ($127 million) of the P5.69 billion ($133 million) total project cost.
Ebesate added that the new hospital, which will be called “Center for Bone and Joint Diseases, Trauma and Rehabilitation Medicine,” will be headed by a Board of Trustees comprised of two government and three private representatives. “Eventually, no matter how the DOH strongly denies it, the POC will turn into a private corporation and thus, can no longer provide free nor affordable health services for the people, especially the majority poor. Also the private company has the right to hire and fire employees.”
Health workers vowed to intensify their protest actions against the impending privatization of government hospitals. “We will not be deceived and intimidated by the statements of the government. Health workers will continue the series of protests that will hound the bidding process of the POC and other plans to further privatize public health care . We will assert the people’s right to health and we will continue the campaign against privatization of POC and other (26) public hospitals,” Velchez added.