Thu. Jun 24th, 2021
Did you know that the Philippine General Hospital, the flagship of the government’s healthcare system, opened its doors on September 1, 1910 and used to be flooded whenever the Manila Bay tide rose? The only time it got renovated was when First Lady Imelda Marcos, had a multi-storey building designed by Architect J. Ramos in 2007 to commemorate its 100th year of the law creating it. Today, it has 1,100 ward and 400 private beds, and has an estimated of 4,000 employees to serve more than 600,000 patients every year. Last week, firetrucks rushed to its location because a portion of it got burned. Philstar columnist Cito Beltran asks “What if it burned to the ground?”

By Ado Paglinawan

Time to bring the more important issues of national interest to public attention rather than the counterproductive debate on Noynoy Aquino’s West Philippine Seas.

When Duterte assumed the presidency, he aimed for his best legacy the reduction of the 21.6% poverty rate to 14%. Pre-pandemic, the Philippine Statistics Authority already posted this at a high of 17.7% which made the projection of 14% very doable.

Acting Economic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua, however, acknowledged that the pandemic could send some 2.7 million Filipinos back to the poverty line which translates to 2.5% of our 110.6 million population.

To arrest the downslope, Chua said “For 2021, we are currently working with both houses of Congress to pass a budget that will be more responsive to the needs of the country, including the creation of around 1.6 million jobs as the infrastructure budget is increased to P1.12 trillion which will ensure continuous job creation.”

This is in addition to legislating three Bayanihan to Recover as One Acts, since the lockdowns of March 2020 and the return to herd immunity by the third quarter of this year after the start of the “BakuNation” program last March, the NEDA chief said, could still make the 14% achievable. 

Noynoy Aquino ended with these figures when he left office.

Why Duque should resign

When June last year, I said that President Rodrigo Duterte should fire Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, my complaints against him were not just how he was bungling the supervision of the government response to the Covid-19 crisis or his dalliance with big Pharma that started its stench due to his lackadaisical behavior amid the Dengvaxia controversy that fueled public distrust against vaccination.

Duque has been health secretary during the Arroyo administration and even Philhealth chairman. Plus five years in office under the present dispensation and he still doesn’t get it.

It is the decrepit condition of our overall government health system, stupid!

We have a serious shortage of government tertiary hospitals and an almost non-existent national primary care program.

Congress has passed the universal healthcare system but for a population of over a hundred million people, who will implement the gargantuan task?

In Duque’s world, it is the private sector. 

There are 1,236 hospitals in the country as of 2017, and of these, 2/3 are private hospitals. Despite the WHO standard is 20 beds per 10,000 population, the Philippines has never reached the recommended ratio.

This indicator even worsened from 14.4 beds per 10,000 population in 1990 to only 9.9 beds per population in 2014, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).  

Of the 1/3 that are government hospitals, most are in despicable state ever since they were devolved to the local governments who could hardly sustain enough funding for them to meet basic operational standards.

Bong Go to the rescue

Where Secretary Francisco Duque has greatly failed the nation, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go rises to the occasion!

Senate Committee on Health Chair, Senator Go, has sponsored bills which are aimed at improving and developing public hospitals in different parts of the country.

In his sponsorship speech, Go said that the COVID-19 pandemic has made government more cognizant of the need to capacitate and improve our public health facilities.

“Lalo na po sa mga probinsya na talagang kulang na kulang ang mga health facilities. Sa pag-iikot ko po sa iba’t ibang parte ng bansa, nakita ko po mismo ang kakulangan natin sa hospital beds at equipment. Minsan po ang mga pasyente sa hospital corridor na nakaratay. Kawawa po ang ating mga kababayan,” Go said.

He also noted that the need to increase hospital bed capacity of most public hospitals has been a challenge during the public health crisis, prompting authorities to establish modular hospitals.

“Ngayong pandemya, problema natin ang kakulangan natin sa hospital beds, particularly ICU beds. Kinakailangan po nating mag-impose ng mas mahigpit na community quarantine restrictions para makahinga ang ating health system,” he said.

“Kinailangan rin po natin magtayo ng temporary facilities and modular hospitals for Covid-19 cases. Ayaw na po natin maulit na darating tayo sa punto na wala nang kama na available para sa may sakit. Dapat po ay laging handa ang ating mga pampublikong ospital na magserbisyo sa mga pasyente,” he added.

It is for these reasons that Go stressed that improving health capacity and delivery in the provinces would help enhance the health and overall well-being of all Filipinos. He emphasized that Filipino families must be able to enjoy easy access to responsive health care systems even in the provinces and rural areas.

Among the bills upgrading government health facilities sponsored by Go during the session include

  • Increasing the bed capacities of the Sinait District Hospital in Sinait, Ilocos Sur; lying-in clinic in Rizal, Palawan; the Naguilian District Hospital in La Union; the Rosario District Hospital in Rosario, La Union; the East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City; and the Mayor Hilarion A. Ramiro Sr. Medical Center in Ozamiz City, Misamis Occidental.
  • Converting the Schistosomiasis Control and Research Hospital in Palo, Leyte into the Governor Benjamin T. Romualdez General Hospital and Schistosomiasis Center, and increase its bed capacity.
  • Renaming the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center in Tacloban City into Eastern Visayas Medical Center, and increasing its bed capacity.
  • Converting the Medina Extension Hospital in Medina, Misamis Oriental into a general hospital.
  • Upgrading the Lanao del Norte Provincial Hospital into the Lanao del Norte Regional Medical Center.
  • Upgrading the Benguet General Hospital.

Proposed projects before pandemic

During the maiden airing of SovereignPH-TV podcast Koffee Klatch last April 24, University of the Philippines Executive Vice President and health expert Dr. Tedoro “Teddy” Herbosa said the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the “underfunded” and “fragile” Philippine health care system.

Herbosa agreed with the view of former National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Ernesto Pernia that the government should invest more for the country’s public health care system.

He said that at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, he submitted a proposal to Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd to build the 700-bed Philippine General Hospital unit in Diliman, Quezon City under the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build program.

Herbosa even suggested that the PGH unit in Diliman be built with Chinese expertise, as the Chinese were able to build hospitals for its Covid-19 patients in less than two weeks. This proposal did not get any response from Duque but will be undertaken through a private-public partnership this year.

“When was the last time the government built a big hospital? I mean the national government? You will have to look all the way back at the Marcos time,” he said, adding that the current health system of the Philippines is “fragile.”

Pernia was convinced that the government should treat fund allocations for the health system as investments and not as an expense, of which the latter is the traditional view of the government’s finance and budget officials.

‘’Pernia was right – health is an investment, it is not an expense. If we invest in the health in our people, our people will become economically productive,” he added, “Government hospitals have only relied on sin taxes to improve their facilities and services in the past decades and the signing into law in 1994 of the National Health Insurance Act.

“Over the long term, we need to have a longer vision, I hope our leaders and future leaders will be more long sighted about health and development, health and economics, because what we should do is to look beyond the elections,” Herbosa said.

Hardest hit by poverty in the Philippines

Go on the go!

Meanwhile, Go also sponsored bills establishing more and improved government hospitals, such as the Eastern Pangasinan Regional Medical and Trauma Center, the Davao Occidental General Hospital, the Neptali Gonzales General Hospital in Mandaluyong City, and the Bacolod City General Hospital.

Go has been vocal about the importance of pursuing local hospital measures, saying that they do not only boost the capacities and capabilities of health facilities, but also provide better access to government services throughout the country.

In 2019, Go has also authored and sponsored the Malasakit Centers Act.

The law aims to make all existing government medical assistance programs more accessible by putting together the concerned agencies under one roof — including the Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

Under the act, all hospitals managed by the DOH and the Philippine General Hospital are mandated to open their own Malasakit Center.

Hospitals run by local government units and other public hospitals may also establish their own centers provided that they meet a standard set of criteria and guarantee the sustainability of its operations.

While at it, Senator Go ought to take a serious look at the P9 billion Senate building at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City, and propose to convert it into a flagship government hospital with state-of-the-arts facilities, and the flagship of President Duterte’s universal healthcare program.

This is a supreme protest to the resolution of 15 stupid senators defunding the National Task Force for the Elimination of Local Communist Armed Conflict whose P16 billion funds will directly benefit the development of 882 barangays in Geographically Isolated Displaced Areas nationwide, most of its residents have not even seen a government hospital. 

We can however rename it in their dishonor as “The Senate 15 Medical Center”.

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