Thursday, June 27, 2013

Privatizing Philippine Orthopedic Center

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

In 1998, the centennial year of Philippine independence from Spain, I was assigned to do a Sunday Inquirer Magazine cover story on centenarians (“Lives of the Century,” 6/7/98). One of them was Dr. Jose de los Santos, then 100 years old. He agreed to be interviewed at the family-owned hospital named after him. When we met he was wearing a crisp white doctor’s jacket and a broad smile on his face.

Not many know that the doctor was a war hero and one of the founders of the iconic National Orthopedic Hospital, now the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) and to be renamed Center for Bone and Joint Disease, Trauma and Rehabilitation Medicine when it is privatized under the Aquino administration’s public-private partnership (PPP) program.

Called the “Father of Philippine Orthopedics,” De los Santos was the hospital’s founder and first head, and the founder and first president of the Philippine Orthopedic Association. De los Santos’ story (excerpts below) came to mind when I learned about the impending privatization of POC and the protests by health, church and advocacy groups who find the move detrimental to the hospital’s poor patients and employees.

The 700-bed POC is the only specialized orthopedic government hospital in the country. Located in Quezon City, it has 940 employees. In 2010 it attended to 5,347 service patients and 1,266 paying patients. It serves poor patients with bone and joint injuries and diseases for free—and free does not mean low-quality. Despite a challenged budget, it has some of the best bone doctors and other health personnel.

The Coalition Against the Privatization of POC questions the move to turn the hospital into “the country’s first health project under the PPP program.” This is part of the Aquino administration’s Kalusugan Pangkalahatan (universal health care) that promises increased affordability and accessibility to health care.

The POC is among several government hospitals in the PPP offering, among which are the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, San Lazaro Hospital, Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Medical Center, and Jose R. Reyes Memorial Centers.

Here is a briefer from the coalition: The P5.7-billion project approved by President Aquino on Sept. 8, 2012, involves a 25-year contract for the construction, operation and maintenance of a 700-bed hospital inside the National Kidney and Transplant Institute compound in Quezon City. Nine big corporations offered bids but later reportedly backed out. In the end, only one bidder, Megawide Construction Corp., was left. Construction starts in 2014; expected completion is 2016.

The coalition accuses the government of turning health into profitable business and asks: Where will poor patients go? On a given day, 450-500 poor outpatients come for free services; 80-90 percent of inpatients depend on free procedures, medicines and supplies. The hospital stay of trauma patients may take two months and many poor families have to solicit money for expensive metal screws and implants. With its dwindling budget, the POC had to raise rates in radiology and lab procedures. It can no longer offer totally free services.

Credit goes to the ICM sisters in the adjacent convent who minister to and even offer dwelling to poor patients.

In the “modernized” POC under private investors, 420 beds will be for PhilHealth members, 70 for the poor whose expenses will be sponsored by the private operator, and 210 for paying patients. Therapy and metal prostheses will be shouldered by patients. If the 70 beds for the poor are filled, poor patients will be transferred to other facilities of the Department of Health.

And what about the 940 POC workers? Health Secretary Enrique Ona was quoted as saying that no one will lose a job as a result of the POC’s modernization. But the coalition says that in the bid documents, the DOH shall offer the POC staff the options of early retirement, severance/termination of employment, and applying to the project proponent, which will have “the freedom to select employees who wish to transfer” and which is “not under obligation to recognize the existing union.”

The coalition emphasizes that people’s health should not be left entirely in the hands of private investors and that the government, if it is indeed sincere in improving people’s health, should allot adequate funds and invest in public health services.

Here are excerpts from my 1998 article on the Father of Philippine Orthopedics: There is a well-documented story in the 1945-1946 issue of the USA Catholic Digest that tells of the heroism of Dr. De los Santos, the orthopedic surgeon who blazed a trail for bone and joint surgery in the Philippines. It was written by Blake Clark, an American who witnessed how the brave “little doctor of Mandaluyong” used every scrap available, every drop, every morsel of anything in order to save lives…

The doctor’s creativity was likewise put to the test. He and his assistants made improvised pulleys and weights for the patients. They turned empty crates into support instruments for injured legs and backs, they turned lead wires into brackets and parachute shroudlines into traction lines. Discarded beer cans were filled with sand and used as weights. From wrecked planes, they salvaged aluminum that was turned into braces…

When you hear about the great things they do at the government orthopedic hospital that De los Santos founded, you would not at once realize that these had their beginnings in the ruins of the war, in the midst of twisted steel and smoldering iron bars, among people with mangled limbs and flesh that had been ripped apart, among the wounded, the dying and the dead…. ( I will post the entire article in my blogsite.) #

Thursday, June 20, 2013

CComedia's statement on the cruel rape joke

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

The furor did not die instantly, and the issue on rape being the subject of jokes will rankle as long as rape continues to be made a laughing matter. There have been discussions, reflections and reactions in print and online (not much on TV where the cause of the furor belongs) on the rape joke that was heard and laughed at by thousands in a live concert and later viewed with shock online.

I received loads of e-mails from readers who agreed with what I wrote, and a few from those who disagreed, some with spurious bastos e-mail sender names. (Was I able to trace where they came from?)

There were many discussions online and on Facebook that I followed, mostly among strong, conscientious women who have been working with women from all sectors of society, for women’s rights, women’s health, gender equality, etc. They have been doing their advocacy work in so many creative ways only women can think of. Don’t count the men out; many have participated in and supported moves to right the wrongs many women have suffered.

No need to do a blow-by-blow account here of what had transpired. The statement below is the result of group discussions of women and men concerned about how the media and media persons still regard women and the violence they endure as laughing matter. The statement comes from the Concerned Consumers of Media (CComedia). The sound of the name of the group suggests that it embraces comedy, but with a but.

The signatories sent a backgrounder: “In light of the recent incident of Vice Ganda making rape into a joke, and previous incidents involving other media personalities trivializing rape, a group of women and men have found it necessary to make public their stand against this and to let media owners, managers and personalities know that media can do something to be of better service to the public, most especially to women.”

The statement is titled “An Open Letter to the Owners, Managers and Staff of Print and Broadcast Media Outlets, Including TV Entertainers.” It was posted online last night so that people could begin adding their signatures. This is the statement in full:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Two books on crises and hope

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

On my table are two newly published books that deserve thoughtful readers who would be moved to act positively to bring about change. I am not an official book reviewer of the Inquirer, but every now and then I, a reader of books and books, feature books in this space to call attention to them.

One of the two books is “Altar of Secrets: Sex, Politics, and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church” (211 pages) by Aries C. Rufo, published by Journalism for Nation Building Foundation. It is described as “the first of its kind in the Philippines” and exposes sexual misconduct, political interference and financial mismanagement by bishops and priests.

I must say that in the sexual-misconduct category, Rufo’s book is not the first of its kind, having been immediately preceded by “That They May Dance Again: Rising from Violence Against Women in the Philippine Catholic Church” (2011) by Maryknoll’s Sr. Nila Bermisa. Her book was published by the Women and Gender Commission of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines.

I mention the latter to show that members of the Catholic Church, the religious women particularly, have not been remiss in exposing hidden ills that plague it.

Rufo asks: “Why a book on the Catholic Church?” And of this nature? His answer: “This book attempts to make an honest portrayal of the men in white vestments. It seeks to demystify the people perched on a moral high ground and aims to show that they are as human as we are—vulnerable to mistakes, faults and wrongdoing, and susceptible to temptation.”

That, people have known for centuries. So what is new—if there is anything new—in this book that has not been exposed before? My own answer is: It does not have to be new, there could be more of the same. What is new is the fresh insights of a journalist who has broken into “one of the most impenetrable and least scrutinized institutions in the Philippines,” to use the words in the book’s Introduction by Marites Danguilan Vitug, president of Journalism for Nation Building.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pastors living with HIV/AIDS

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
In this age of public disclosures of personal matters by well-known personalities, it still comes as a surprise—discomfiting, but also profoundly moving—for church persons in responsible positions to come out to disclose they are HIV-positive.
Here in the Philippines are two esteemed visitors, Reverend Canon Dr. Gideon Byamugisha of Uganda and Reverend Rosemary Phumzile Mabizela of South Africa. Both are positive for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) that could lead to the life-threatening AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).

Both are outspoken advocates for the removal of the stigma attached to persons living with HIV/AIDS. Both remain in active service in their churches and in HIV/AIDS-related international campaigns. Both are still here in the Philippines as guests of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines’ Cosmopolitan Church in Manila.  

I was fortunate and honored to have met the two advocates, along with Elijah Fung of a Hong Kong-based HIV education center at a forum last Monday. Fung is in touch with overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong.
HIV/AIDS, which first burst into the medical scene in the 1980s, has long been associated—often erroneously—only with irresponsible sexual behavior and drug use through syringes when in fact there are a number of other ways of transmitting and contracting the virus. This had added to the stigma attached to being HIV-positive.