By KAREN ANN MACALALAD
MANILA — Martial Santos, 42, has been keeping watch at the gate of Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital since June 1, the day the hospital management started the pull-out of equipment despite opposition from its employees. He stays in front of the hospital each night, ready to alert the community to block any attempt to move out equipment from Fabella.
Santos is one of the residents of the communities near Fabella Hospital who are leading the calls to stop its impending demolition. Along with health advocates, youth and other progressive groups, they launched a series of protests and kept vigil over the century-old hospital even at night, when moving out of equipment happens. The drivers privately hired to transport the equipment were unaware that it is illegal to do so, he said.
“We oppose the demolition of the hospital because it is the foundation of maternity health in the Philippines,” Santos said. He has been residing in Barangay (village) 312 since 1983, and his two children were born in Fabella.
The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) said three communities, Barangay 310, 311 and 312, which have a voting population of 28,000 will be affected by the closure of Fabella.
Fabella Hospital is situated within the Old Bilibid Complex (OBC), which was transferred under the authority of the state-owned Home Guaranty Corporation (HGC) in 2004. HGC was then ordered to sell the OBC through public bidding. HGC’s deadline for the hospital to move out had expired on June 9.
Another Barangay 312 resident, 36-year-old Conchita Sayosa, has also joined the protests, as she wants to keep the hospital in operation, because it is accessible to the poor who cannot pay their bills. Sayosa herself, a mother of seven children born in Fabella, experienced having a total of P19,000 ($410)-worth of bills waived after presenting her PhilHealth card.
From hospitalization to simple check-up of children, all the services are free, Sayosa said. She currently works in a cotton factory, while her husband earns a living assisting drivers at a parking place.
Both Sayosa and Santos said that the hospital is safe, clean and offers quality service, contrary to the assertion of the management that Fabella needs to be transferred because it posed hazards.
On April 5, Dr. Esmeraldo Ilem announced that Fabella failed the inspection of the International Organization for Standardization, which cited that it has many cracks. The AHW, however, said that years of government neglect has led to the hospital’s current physical structure, now being used as an excuse to evict the hospital.
As he sees it, Santos said officials only wanted to close Fabella to accommodate big capitalists and businessmen who have interests in the hospital’s land.
The impending closure of Fabella will not only entail loss of health workers’ jobs and affordable facility for maternity health, but will also lead to the displacement of families residing nearby. This is what Lucinda Tayao, 41, and Charlina Dumagas, 56, believed.
Tayao said that if government officials successfully evict the iconic Fabella and convert its site into a business area, the demolition of communities will surely follow. People like her will lose their livelihood.
Tayao has been renting a room in Barangay 312 for almost 18 years now, costing her P1,500 ($33) per month. She works as a manicurist to support her nine-year old daughter.
“It is easier to earn money in Manila, even those in the provinces went here to work,” she explained, as a native from Davao. If she and her daughter were relocated in Bulacan, it would be difficult to search for a job and adjust to a new life, Tayao said.
These were also the same sentiments of Dumagas, who was born in Fabella.
“We support the protests because we do not know any other place where our family can live, she said. “I could also see the place of my birth,” she added.
Dumagas tends a sidewalk store, while her husband is a tricycle driver.
“We fear that the demolition of Fabella marks the start of our displacement,” she said, feeling the threat is real even if they have yet to receive a demolition notice.
Santos, Sayosa, Tayao and Dumagas called on President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to forbid the closure of Fabella, and allow it to continue serving as a public hospital.