“For Health Secretary Janette Garin, if the hand hurts, the head must be decapitated. Is that the right solution?”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – It is less than 24 hours before the eviction and feared closure of Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital on June 9 but a number of its employees, residents from nearby communities and other supporters are not giving up the fight for the most affordable maternity hospital in the capital.
On June 8, a day before the deadline for the hospital’s eviction, more protesters gathered to add their voice to stop the closure of the almost century-old hospital. These include groups such as Kadamay, Anakbayan, as well as medical students and student councilors of the University of the Philippines-Manila.
People at the hospital grounds were in high spirit, as they chanted, “Fabella Hospital, huwag buwagin, huwag ibenta (Do no abolish, do not sell)!”
“As a future health professional, we enjoin you to our call to stop the abolition of Fabella Hospital, a government hospital that provides services to the poor. The government is ready to turn its back against the poor in exchange of business interests. We will not let it happen,” said Pholyn Balahadia, UP-Manila university student council chairperson-elect.
The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) asserts that the reason behind the hasty transfer of the hospital is the Home Guaranty Corporation’s (HGC) demand for the hospital to vacate the land. The HGC is a government agency under the Office of the President.
Sean Velchez, Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) employees union president, lambasted the government for neglecting the maintenance of the structure of Fabella Hospital. He said past administrations have kept its budget allocation low, leading to its deterioration.
“Now that the hospital is in worse condition, the government of President Aquino is in a hurry to sell this land. Why not spend for its on-site development?” said Velchez, adding that only four of the eight buildings of the hospital are not in good condition.
“For Health Secretary Janette Garin, if the hand hurts, the head must be decapitated. Is that the right solution?” Velchez said at the protesters’ program.
Rodolfo Ala, a nursing attendant at Fabella in the past 14 years, lambasted the government for its deliberate neglect of the hospital. “Where is P16 million ($346,014) funds meant for the retrofitting of the hospital?” he said.
Ala referred to the Commission on Audit report which questioned the unspent funds alloted for hospital improvement and equipment.
According to the COA report, the project for the elevation of flooring of various offices including fixtures and roofing, replacement of asbestos ceiling, retrofitting works and procurement of hospital equipment costing P16 million for years 2009 and 2010 remained unimplemented and undelivered as of year-end thereby depriving the hospital and its clientele the immediate use and benefits from the improved hospital facilities and upgraded equipment.
Ala also said that government has the option to award to the hospital the land it currently occupies. “The land where the hospital will supposedly transfer is also not Fabella’s property. So why not just award the land to the hospital?” said Ala.
Meanwhile, Elvira Mendoza, also an employee of Fabella, said that they are not against any modernization. She said the hospital to be built inside the DOH compound is good if they will retain the old Fabella. She said the new hospital could be an expansion for pay patients, if the government wanted to earn.
“Just don’t abolish the hospital that caters to the poor,” she said.
‘Hold Garin accountable’
Dr. Geneve Rivera-Reyes of Health Alliance for Human Rights said Garin has been pro-privatization of government hospitals since she was Iloilo province’s first district representative from 2004 to 2013.
Reyes said Garin was among the lawmakers who pushed for the bill that privatizes 72 government public hospitals.
“When she was a congresswoman, all she told us was that, government hospitals should be earning, and should the government spend for repairs of government hospitals?” she said.
Reyes added that Aquino put Garin in the DOH to help push the planned Public-Private Partnership program of the administration.
Reyes said Garin should be held accountable when the new government sits in power after June 30.
AHW said they will continue their protest, not only after June 9, but until the end of the month when President-elect Rodrigo Duterte sits in power. They said they will remain vigilant until they are assured that the maternity hospital will not be abolished.
Velchez, meanwhile, encouraged employees of the hospital to stand to save the Fabella Hospital from being shut down. Taking lessons from their recent victories against hospital privatization, Velchez said history has proven that every battle is won with the people’s collective action.