As the awarding of the modernization project of the Philippine Orthopedic Center to a private firm is fast approaching, health workers, patients, the urban poor, and church people are exploring different options to stop its implementation.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – As the awarding of the modernization project of the Philippine Orthopedic Center to the lone bidder approaches, health workers are thinking of other means to stop the implementation of the said project.
The health workers are now considering filing for an injunction before the Supreme Court once the project is awarded to the consortium of Megawide Construction Corporation and World Citi Inc.
Last June 4, only the consortium of Megawide and World Citi submitted its bidding documents to the Bids and Awards committee. According to Bids Committee chairman and Health Undersecretary Teodoro J. Herbosa, the Megawide and World Citi’s offer for the modernization project would now be evaluated by the National Economic Development Authority-Investment Coordination Committee (NEDA-ICC). The Bids and Awards committee targets to award the modernization project before the end of the month.
The modernization project of the Philippine Orthopedic Center is the first hospital under the Public-Private Partnership projects of Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III government. There are three other PPP projects that have been awarded by the Aquino administration: the Daang Hari-South Luzon Expressway Link bagged by Ayala Corp. in December 2011; the PPP School Infrastructure Project (PSIP) Phase One granted last year to the Citicore Holdings Investment, Inc.-Megawide and BF Corp.-Riverbanks Development Corp. consortiums; and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Expressway Phase II project awarded last month to San Miguel Corp. unit Optimal Infrastructure Development, Inc.
Once awarded, the construction of the new 700-bed Philippine Orthopedic Center would begin on April 2014 and is expected to be completed on April 2016. The new facility will be located at the National Kidney Transplant Institute compound along East Avenue, Quezon City and will be operated under new management for 25 years.
Citing Article 11 Section 15 of the Philippine Constitution and RA 1939 Section 6 which stipulates, “All government hospitals shall operate with not less than ninety (90%) per centum of its bed capacity as free or charity beds,” lawyer Carlos Montemayor of the National Union of People’s Lawyers said a legal remedy is possible to suspend the modernization project. He said that under the Build-Operate Transfer agreement of the Philippine Orthopedic Center, only 10 percent of the 700 bed capacity will be allotted to indigent patients.
Montemayor also added that the Philippines is also legally bound to abide by international laws such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He particularly mentioned Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
Montemayor also cited the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Article 12 that states: “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” The Philippines is a signatory to both international laws, Montemayor said.
On whether the issue is justifiable or a matter that can be brought before the courts, Montemayor cited the landmark case of Oposa vs. Factoran, where petitioners, in this case children through their parents, are enjoining the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to cancel all timber license agreements (TLAs) in the country and to cease and desist from accepting and approving more timber license agreements. The Supreme Court granted the petition ruling that the children had the legal standing to file the case based on the concept of “intergenerational responsibility.” Here, Montemayor said, the petitioners can also invoke their right to health.
“On the basis of right to health, yes, there is a precedent to file a petition to the Supreme Court,” Montemayor said. He added that once the modernization project is awarded to Megawide and World Citi, the health workers can immediately file a petition.
But more than the legal remedy, Montemayor said, the collective action of the people is the best remedy against privatization of government hospitals. He encouraged the groups to continue to strengthen and intensify their campaign against privatization of government hospitals to pressure the government to act.
Religious groups support campaign vs privatization
Meanwhile, members of religious groups are joining the call to stop the privatization of the POC. The Religious Discernment Group (RDG) and the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (JPIC-ICM) express concern over the plight of the affected patients once the modernization project of the POC pushes through.
“The Philippine Constitution clearly states that: ‘The State shall protect and promote the health of the people and instill health consciousness among them’ (Article 11 Section 15). This is but an expression of the moral responsibility of the state to care for, particularly, the poorest in society,” the groups said in a statement.
“In Psalm 72:4 we read the prayer for the ruler: ‘May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.’ Yet we find the Aquino administration, though its program of privatization of health facilities and services, completely ignoring these legal and moral dictums,” the group added.
The religious groups vow to support the call against privatization not only of the POC but of the other government hospitals as well.
“We will help in this campaign and will engage the church people through education,” Sr. Lydia Lascano, coordinator of the JPIC-ICM, told Bulatlat.com. The group has initiated a forum last Monday, June 24, that discussed about the privatization of the POC and other government hospitals.
The ICM sisters are also helping patients of the POC. Sean Velchez, nurse at the POC and president of the employees union said the sisters of the ICM have been involved in caring for the patients especially those who are poor. “They even give transportation and food to patients who really have nothing,” Velchez said.
The ICM sisters have a transient house near the POC that houses indigent patients from different provinces in the country. Lascano said they have already expanded because the numbers of patients are increasing. “We house patients together with their companion who have no other place to stay while they are here in Manila for their treatment. Many of these patients are waiting for their operation,” Lascano told Bulatlat.com. She added that the transient house most of the time is full. A minimal fee of P50 ($1.15) per day is charged to the patients. There are also donors and network of church people who helps in the maintenance of the transient house.
“Christ gave priority to those who are sick. Wherever he goes he gave his services to those who are sick, to those who have broken bones and to the lepers. He has sympathy for the people’s lives that’s why he said, ‘I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance,’” Lascano said in the forum. The forum was attended by religious people from the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum, United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Church People’s Worker Solidarity and other church groups.