Lawyers raise constitutional challenge on State responsibility and people’s right to health
A group of indigent patients, employees of the orthopedic center, health professionals, concerned citizens and progressive legislators have asked the Supreme Court to halt government plans to cede management and operations of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) to a private entity, saying that it violates constitutionally guaranteed rights to health care & equitable access to health services.
“The bleeding and injured destitute patients in representation of themselves and in representation of all others to be similarly situated come now to the Court because they are being rushed to the emergency or operating room for profit by those who should be taking care of them in the first place. They will be bled dry for commercial fees due to privatized health care service by forces preying on their miserable conditions, ” said Atty. Edre U. Olalia, secretary-general and head of the legal team from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).
The group sought to stop the implementation of the “Modernization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center” project under the Public-Private Partnership scheme of the Aquino administration – the first hospital to be privatized. The project costing P5.6 Billion was awarded to the giant Megawide Construction Corp. and World Citi Consortium.
“We have the power to choose for ourselves, and more than merely being charitable, to be civilized and just, especially for the poor and underprivileged,” said Atty. Olalia.
“Should this happen this first time with the POC, then all the rest of the government hospitals or public health facilities and services all over the country will follow this route, and the health of the people and their basic right to it and access to health services will be bludgeoned to smithereens. It would spell the death knell by adding insult to injury, as it were.”
The POC is a Department of Health-retained hospital. It is the country’s only hospital specializing in orthopaedic disorders, including cases of spinal cord injuries. It is being privatized as part of President B. S. Aquino’s Private Public Partnership (PPP) project of funding even social services.
“If one thinks that health can be exchanged for wealth, this Petition does not deserve the court’s precious attention,” the petition’s prefatory statement reads. It adds, “But if one believes that wealth must be subordinated to health, especially of the dying destitutes… then this Petition and what it is fighting for deserve more days in this Court.”
Invoking the State’s responsibility to provide and ensure a basic social service, the Petition states, “such duty should not be relinquished to a private entity through privatization or commercialization of a government hospital, to the prejudice of the poor and underprivileged.”
Through the Petition, novel questions on people’s rights and welfare are brought before the Supreme Court as it involves the fundamental question of whether the right to health and other socio-economic rights are self-executory and legally demandable.
Under the winning bid, the “modernized” POC is allowed to allocate only 70 beds for service (indigent) patients and 420 for sponsored (Philheath) patients – compared to the current 562 beds or 85% capacity for indigent patients. The new management would have an option not to accommodate non-paying patients if the 70 beds are already occupied.
POC employees also face the possibility of losing their jobs. The contract makes the workforce private, such that those who wish to remain in government service have to transfer to another DOH hospital. Those who choose to stay at POC are not assured that they will be absorbed. To emphasize the significance of the Petition, the modernization of the POC is only the first in a series of other PPP projects to be implemented in the health sector. Definitely, this Petition gives the Highest Court the perfect opportunity to give life to the constitutional mandate to the State to promote the people’s right to health through the accessibility of affordable health care.
This is a challenge for the court to shoot down neo-liberal programs which will only worsen the already inept and ineffective health care system in the country.
Petitioners included doctors and nurses from the Network Opposed to Privatization of Public Hospitals and Health Services (NOP), Council for Health and Development (CHD), Nars ng Bayan Community Health Nurses’ Association, Alliance of Health Workers (AHW), Health Alliance for Human Rights (HAHR), People’s Health Movement; Community Medicine Practitioners and Advocates Association (COMPASS); Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), leaders of citizens’ groups Makabayan, Gabriela, Kalipunan ng Damayan ng Mahihirap (KADAMAY), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), and congressmen from Bayan Muna and Kabataan party-list.
Edre U. Olalia
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)
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