Thu. Jun 24th, 2021

By Ado Paglinawan

When 15 senators passed a resolution that could defund the National Task Force for the Elimination of Communist Armed Conflict, I said that our legislative branch of government could have become the biggest white elephant in our Republic.

Last week, I featured Senator Bong Go in this column, a rare thing I do for politicians, making an exception because where the Department of Health has seriously failed, the good senator files a series of bills dramatically improving our government hospitals. 


I will repeat the statistics I have gathered –

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).  

Only 1/3 are government hospitals, and these some 400 are mostly 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 has offered a solution to a problem that has not been attended to since the Marcos administration and before that the founding of the Philippine General Hospital in 1910.

I do identify with Senator Go’s frustration over Senator Franklin Drilon’s questions over proposed measures that will obligate the national government to fund several provincial hospitals amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

A master in legalisms, Drilon obstructed the measures assumably because he was of the perspective that the bills will “nationalize” the health system that the Local Government Code of 1991 had already devolved to the local governments.

Drilon also raised the Mandanas ruling of the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2018 that local governments’ internal revenue allotments would be sourced from all revenues collected by the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs.

Go however disagreed saying the local government units’ budget cannot shoulder the expenses to build hospitals, adding that the national government must step in to augment in the construction of health facilities.

“Wala silang pera to operate the hospital sa Pangasinan, ‘yung sa Senate President Neptali Gonzales at Davao Occidental hindi po nila kakayanin… It has a plan sa hospital, iyong kalahati ng hospital budget ang kakayanin. Kailangan national government ang sumalo dito,” Go said.

After a lengthy exchange, Go insinuated that the minority leader was delaying the passage of the measures.

“Andyan na po ang bills, aprubado na po ang lower House yung nasa kamay ng Senado. Bakit pa natin patagalin pa Mr. President? Kawawa naman po ang Pilipino. Nasa pandemya po tayo,” Go said.

At one point, Go voted to skip the period of interpellations for his bills: “May I move that the interpellation for these measures be terminated, pagbotohan na lang po natin.”

Drilon rejected Go’s motion to terminate the period of interpellation.

“One of the traditions of the Senate since time immemorial is that the cloture is never invoked in the debates. There are legitimate issues that we raised. This involves the Mandanas ruling and its effect on fiscal ability on the government to respond to its need. Maybe the Cabinet itself is concerned about this,” said Drilon.

While Bong Go is trying to solve the problem, Drilon was lawyering.

The young senator has already justified that first, the system imposed by the Local Government Code does not seem to be working.

Yes, devolution is nice to hear, power and autonomy to the LGUs, but when a dystrophy especially in funding these facilities occur to the point that the hospitals become incapable of meeting the needs of the communities and the exigencies on the ground, what good do these buildings serve?

The senate is a legislative body – if the local government code limits instead of enhances the delivery of good health services to our people, can it not be amended?

This is a life-and-death issue and Drilon resorts to technicalities?

Second, the implications of the Mandanas ruling provides a breather for local government to source funds directly from their IRA. But such are not even enough especially for those provinces and municipalities that are not affluent.

What Senator Go is saying is that one – this may not go all the way to providing more hospital beds and other necessary equipment, and acquisition of assets, and two, it is obviously not enough.

Under what law does it prohibit the national government from augmenting the capability of local government units to meet growing concerns on the ground, especially in this Covid-19 pandemic?

If there is such a law, then rescind it because it violates common sense. It could even kill needy patients.

If the LGUs are already asking for assistance, isn’t it obvious to Drilon that they can no meet the burden?

Is Drilon happy local hospitals actually serve as funeral parlors?

I have a niece last year who gave birth to a blue baby in a government hospital in Pontevedra, Capiz. She eventually died because the oxygen equipment had to be shuttled back and forth to about five patients. Her bassinet was really a laundry tub and the incubators were just improvised from lampshades.

I lost my temper when I saw pictures of Baby Adele, sent to me through Messenger.

I am pro-life. Every single life counts. God giveth, let no hospital taketh, just because it is prevented from taking in national funds because of some two-bit lawyer.

P13 Billion SLEX extension from Sto. Tomas to Lucena City.

The strategic road project is expected to boost the economy of the southern Tagalog region and the Bicolandia , a major infrastructure aspect that has been totally neglected by the past five presidencies of Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Erap Estrada, Gloria Arroyo and Noynoy Aquino.

Despite Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, and nagging right-of-way (ROW) issues, contractor San Miguel Corporation (SMC) has restarted expediting work on its P13.1 billion, 66.74-kilometer, South Luzon Expressway Tollroad-4 (SLEX-TR4) from Sto. Tomas, Batangas to San Pablo City. Laguna, finally ending up at Lucena City, Quezon.

SMC announced that next to the TPLEX (Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway), SLEX-TR4 is its longest expressway project by far, where acquiring all the necessary rights-of-way has become the primary challenge.

The company which just finished the elevated highway connecting the SLEX with NLEX said the same strategy it utilized for its Skyway 3 project, which was to concentrate work on all workable areas and then adjust as other areas become available.

Work on SLEX-TR4, which started in 2019, is currently concentrated on the project’s Section B in Alaminos, Laguna and Section C in Tiaong, Quezon, near the Hacienda Escudero area.

At Section B, construction is focused on the project’s PNR underpass, Koquinkona bridge, and Maharlika underpass, all parallel to the Alaminos-Tiaong Bypass road. Pipe-laying for drainage as well as embankment works to level the road prior to laying of concrete, is ongoing.

Meanwhile, at Section C, work on the Tiaong, Quezon interchange has also progressed well. Construction of the Tiaong bridge, Tiaong underpass, and Dolores bridge, as well as drainage and embankment works, are underway.

While pandemic restrictions forced SMC to scale down construction, the impact on the project timeline is not substantial. They can simply accelerate work once quarantines are eased.

San Miguel Corporation said that much like all its projects, it considers the TR4 as its own investment, qualifying it is not just a contractor for government putting in all the resources needed to complete a project, but making it beneficial to as many Filipinos as possible.

SLEX-TR4 will form part of SMC’S interconnected expressway network in the south that will boost agriculture and tourism, open up affected provinces to more investments, and allow our people to have an easier time visiting their hometowns or loved ones in the province.

This is a timely jab to the peace and development initiative of the government towards eliminating all local communist armed conflicts. The Southern Luzon and Bicol regions that for the past 30 years have been, together with some areas in Eastern Visayas and Mindanao, the hotbed of communist terrorists.

These Build, Build, Build projects are really trickle down solutions to get the centers of political and economic power closer to Mang Juan de la Cruz.

On the other hand, President Duterte has also sent P13.1 billion of the P16.4 Barangay Development Fund, directly to its recipients, proving for a bottoms-up counterpart.

Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said there is only about P3 billion left and these are all earmarked already,”

“We’re just waiting for the completion of the requirements. We wanted to release them in accordance with the timetable because we need to report back to Congress what has happened to the approved budget for the barangay development fund under NTF-Elcac,” he added. That right, the solons must be spoon-fed these valuable feedbacks because at some point during their six-year term as senator or three-year-term as congressmen, they doze-off in their armchairs, no longer study their legislative agenda, and end up becoming a problem for every solution brought before them.

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