Monday, May 09, 2005

Health Workers on Health Workers’ Day: Sick with Government Neglect

It was health workers’ day last May 7 but the more than 400 health workers from different hospitals in Manila gathered a day before not to celebrate but to call the government’s attention to the worsening condition of the health sector. Their plan to bring their grievances to Malacañang Palace was blocked when the police refused to allow them to march.

BY AUBREY MAKILAN
Bulatlat

It was health workers’ day last May 7 but the more than 400 health workers from different hospitals in Manila gathered a day before not to celebrate but to call the government’s attention to the worsening condition of the health sector. Their plan to bring their grievances to Malacañang Palace was blocked when the police refused to allow them to march.

The protesters assembled inside the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) compound in Manila at 9 a.m. and were planning to march along Taft Avenue. However, a 50-man anti-riot police contingent from the Western Police District (WPD), armed with truncheons and batons, closed the hospital gates, including the pedestrian gates. They banned the entry and exit even of patients and relatives who needed to buy medicine from the hospital pharmacy. Everyone was made to use the Padre Faura gate, including a woman in labor.

The rallyists, led by the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) and Kilosbayan para sa Kalusugan (KBK) then decided to hold their protest action inside the PGH compound.

One of the rally speakers, Remedios Maltu, president of the San Lazaro Hospital Employees Association-Alliance of Health Workers, using the sound system addressed the anti-riot police that blocked the gates of the PGH where they assembled before proceeding to Mendiola, the road leading to the presidential palace.

“Kung wala kaming mga unyonistang nakikipaglaban dito, may matitira pa bang ospital na libre ngayon?,” (Without unionists like us, do you think there would still be hospitals offering free services?), asked Maltu.

Maltu said the government should not have declared a “special” day for them if they could not even exercise their freedom of expression on that day. Through an executive order, former Corazon Aquino declared May 7 as health workers’ day.

Jenny Manuel of the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) said the creation of Health Workers’ Day was just a consuelo de bobo (meaningless token) to them. “Kami na nga lang ang nagse-celebrate, di pa pinapayagan,” she said. “They have lined us with the other unsung heroes, and are now forgotten.”

Bulatlat called the Department of Health (DoH) but its personnel said no one is available that Friday due to the new four-day work policy of the government.

Health crisis

Both AHW and KBK hold President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo responsible for the health sector’s worsening condition. The administration’s inaction with regards the health workers’ demands – a P3,000 across-the-board salary increase; higher budget allocation for health workers’ benefits; and priority to health budget – are part of the reasons the militant health workers support the call for Macapagal-Arroyo’s ouster. Aside from health-related issues, they also criticize other state policies, particularly the anti-terrorism bill and value-added tax (VAT).

Manuel added that aside from reducing the budget for health services, the government is gearing on the restructuring of government-owned hospitals, including the Lung Center, National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI), Philippine Heart Center, East Avenue Medical Center and Philippine Children’s Medical Center.

Meanwhile, Celestina Latonero, also called Nanay Seling by her fellow protesters and a community health volunteer in Pook Libis, Diliman, Quezon City, said in Filipino that Macapagal-Arroyo “may be the smallest president but the worst of all.”

Nanay Seling, 68, is a native of Samar (a Visayan province 800 kms south of Manila). She told Bulatlat how difficult and expensive it is to avail of medical services whether in the province or in Manila. The problem doesn’t end when the patient dies, she said. She shared how even children are forced to play sakla (a card game) to raise money for the burial expenses of their dead loved ones.

Dr. Gene Nisperos, secretary general of Health Alliance for Democracy (Head), said that the police’s behavior was not surprising and reflects only their chief’s attitude.

Sympathy

Although they blocked the protesters as instructed by their superiors, some members of the anti-riot police believe that the health workers’ calls were legitimate.

Five policemen interviewed by Bulatlat said they sympathized with them but they had to follow orders. One of them even said, “Sana ‘wag naman nila kaming i-reject sa mga ospital, pero wala talaga kaming magagawa, kaysa naman mawalan kami ng trabaho.”

According to another, they know how hard life is with a meager salary. This PO2 ranking policeman said he only receives around P11, 000 because of so many deductions.

But Maltu pointed out that performing their task should not mean the curtailment of other people’s rights. Bulatlat

© 2004 Bulatlat ■ Alipato Publications

1 comment:

AUPWU Manila said...

The All UP Workers Union Manila has about 30 members present in this rally; including its President, Mr. Jossel I. Ebesate who is presently, the Secretary General of the Alliance of Health Workers