• A Nobel laureate’s death unraveled a society that’s callous to the core


    AS a private hospital turned down 2010 Nobel laureate Richard Heck for unpaid bills, which led to Heck’s severe physical deterioration and death, the country’s electoral institutions were preparing for the May 2016 circus. It was the season of the year not much else mattered. A Nobel prize winner died under the most tragic of circumstance? Who he ?

    No one, except for an on-the-mark Manila Times editorial, had the time and the effort to raise this pained and harrowing question. Why did this country lose its soul? Only a soulless country can host a hospital that will turn down a human being for unpaid bills and let him die on the streets. Had it not been for the fact that a Noble winner married to a Filipina, and who devoted a lifetime doing scientific researches to improve human lives was the victim of the money-hungry callousness, that death would have been regarded as “one of those things” and Heck’s death would have been relegated to a cold, meaningless statistic.

    No one bothered to ask the question “What has happened to this money-chasing, money-grubbing country?” Not one lost a good night’s sleep over Heck’s death. Nothing was heard and nothing was asked, not a pipsqueak was raised by the holy men, the Cardinal and the Executive Minister/Pastor included. Is not “the sanctity of human lives” their favorite meme? Man, Mr. Heck had a chance to prolong his life before he was refused admission for proper medical / hospital care for unpaid bills.

    Where were the “Team Buhay” bishops who rail at politicians who do not respect the “sanctity of human lives?”

    Where were the supposedly “religious” and “friendly” and “warm” people ” when the life of the Nobel winner was at stake? Here, I know the answer. If money were not an issue, they can be “friendly” and “warm” and “religious.”

    Our joke of a country surely earned its karma (the rage of the world over our callousness) on the Heck case.

    Ok, what is the practice in “materialistic” countries of the world?

    A few years back, I was in Southern California and met up with friends who were visiting a next of kin at the medical center of the University of Southern California. The relative of my friends, a Pinay tourist, was run over while crossing a street near USC. Strangers rushed her to the hospital after the driver of the reckless vehicle sped away. She was attended to, a process that involved complicated life-saving surgery.

    The successful surgery was performed with no questions asked. Are you a citizen or a tourist? Do you have money for the hospitalization? Did you make a deposit? Do you have money for the PF (professional fees for the doctors )? They just did their job and the hospital – after verifying she was a victim of a hit-and-run affair – released her after a month without paying a cent.

    It is standard practice –attend to those in need of medical care because saving lives should trump all other considerations. It is the Hippocratic Oath, which is supposed to guide the conduct of doctors and hospitals across the globe.

    Contrast that with Heck’s death on the unbelievable reason of “unpaid bills.”

    Many times, we have to wonder on whether or not the Filipino DNA is just hardwired to money-chasing and money-worship and not much else. Though this is far-fetched, as no money-grubbing bent is in the DNA, the question keeps popping up. Why? Chasing money and profit trumps every other concern, especially the concerns that have something to do with basic work for humanity. How else can we explain neglecting the likes of Heck, who, was practically a native and should be declared a “national treasure.”

    The “national treasure” tag was fitting because we have not produced a Noble winner since the declaration of the Republic and we surely can’t produce one in another 100 years. But then again, that was not possible with our mind-set. Not with our hopeless hoop dreams and ALDUB fixation. Not with a society that is marching to full Kardashian-hood.

    What empirical lab work and research would unravel the Filipino DNA. We will not venture into that. The DOST, fearing the results perhaps, would not even fund such important research work.

    Our money-grubbing mind-set, here is a plausible explanation, is probably tied to that the newly-minted economics Nobel laureate Angus Deaton has warned against – the concentration of wealth and power to a very few at the very top. This skews everything, including the values of a society.

    The owner of vast corporate interests, the very wealthy in our country, set the agenda along with their political allies.

    The national agenda becomes an obsession with growth rates, credit upgrades, improved revenue collections and all things related to growth and money.

    With this come the glorification of wealth and the deification of the rich.

    With this comes the neglect of those who suffer and those who are vulnerable.

    The soul is lost and society becomes callous to the core especially toward the vulnerable.



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    1. Here is simpler issue with regards Pilipinas citizenry. BASURA!! Nagkalat ang basura ngawa ng ngawa (paminsan-minsan) pero when walang ginagawa.

    2. In the US, especially in California, I believe it is against the law to refuse to treat someone brought to Emergency. Clearly, this is not the case in the Philippines. Perhaps there should be a similar law in the Philippines?

      As for the unfortunate Mr. Heck, I cannot understand why he became “penniless”, and thus, unable to pay for his medical bills. He got his Nobel prize in 2010, one of three winners. His share of the prize amounted to at least 307,000 US dollars. At 40 pesos to one dollar, this amounted to a total of almost 12 million pesos (12,280,000). “Saan napunta ang pera? Ano ang nangyari sa pera”. Who gained control of the money? His caregivers or his late wife’s relatives should be questioned to find out what happened to his Nobel prize money such that he died penniless. I read that he wanted to return to the USA, and kept calling for a taxi to take him to the airport. There is something mysterious about this. Was he an unwilling “prisoner” by his wife’s relatives in his rented house?

      As for the St. Luke’s Medical Center, shame, shame, shame! It did not act like a true Catholic hospital. It behaved like a typical profit center catering only to wealthy clients. No charity in its heart!

    3. victor m. hernandez on

      God have mercy on us. Amen. May the soul of Mr. Richard Heck rest in peace. R I P + Amen.

    4. Justaskingseriously on

      There is no mention of insurance anywhere in your column. Accidents happen. The University of Southern California or any other U.S. hospital will have no problem collecting from the insurance company of the driver who ran over your friends’ relative. Besides, a university medical center can always provide opportunities for surgical interns to at least observe how to fix a mangled patient. So the crux of the whole issue is why a sickly American — Nobel prize winner or not — would not come back to the U.S.A. Everybody is harping on how sick is the Philippine society or how callous! That is not the issue no matter how true. American senior citizens have Medicare coverage for health services. There are supplemental health insurance coverage for those who can afford to complement Medicare. And there is medicaid as supplemental health insurance for the penniless. Every American senior citizen knows that Medicare is not available outside of the U.S.A. and the U.S. territories such as Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Filipinos who who receive veterans’ benefits know this. If they choose to spend their last days in the Philippines, well….Journalists, do not blame the health care system. And just leave the culture of life advocates to their advocacies. Most of the time, the business aspect of life is beyond them. Urge the Insurance industry to be industrious at getting people insured. PhilHealth needs to be complemented with other insurance coverage. This is a public-private partnership just waiting to be tapped. Do car owners pay car insurance as a condition for their car being registered? Is car insurance required for renewal of registration? These are crucial issues for the LTO to advocate. And for the journalists to urge Congress to enact laws designed for the common good. Blame game is too easy. That is why you-know-who has resorted to that game since the first day of his noynoying.

    5. Why blame society at large when those hospitals are owned by the plutocrats? They own everything, including you and me. If you are owned and abused and your personality is warped as a result who is to blame but your owner? The solution, first, is to liberate you from your owner, right? Therefore instead of blaming ourselves what we need is a consensus as to how we can liberate ourselves. My idea is to bring out our pistols and bolos, with guillotines to follow later, what’s yours?

    6. A little research by this writer would have revealed all his retirement funds are now managed by the wife’s family. Significantly, a USA reporter in just 30 minutes found a friend of Heck in the states, too whom Heck complained wife’s family was not using his money properly, including paying his medical bills.

    7. To make it pointblank simple to those like Grace Poe who had changed citizenships (to Canadian or USa or Australian) and who are now thinking of retiring for good inPilipinas. Heck returned to Pilipinas with over half-a-mill USA dollars (from Nobel prize and savings) — and Heck had monthly retirement of US$2,500.00. NOT ENOUGH….Heck ran out of money. Food for thought.

    8. St Peter’s, St Paul’s, Cardinal hospital, any hospital whose name begins with a St or a Cardinal and run by people with very large crosses in their chests are run much the same way as any hospital that is not religious. Show me the cash and not any evidence of substantial cash before they even admit a sick person beyond the admission desk. What you say is very very true of all. Not the fault of the government or anyone particular individual or group. That’s just what it is in our own catholic Ph. But… if that’s not how things should be run, how? Because how do you pay the people who work there or how do you pay for the investment that was required to put up a hospital?

    9. I shared this episode with my sister in America where I said it elicited several emotional reactions in me namely disgust, shame, pity and finally dread. The last reaction because I realized that this could happen to me and my wife both of us now retired and aging and heaven forbid we might be too poor to pay for health care when the time comes that we need it badly. We might also be rejected by all hospitals for inability to pay and left to die somewhere.

    10. The sad thing in the above case is the hospital is St. Lukes which is owned and operated by the Catholic Church that espouses the “sanctity of lives”, it is more like sanctity of profits. Mr. Ronquillo even in our own neck of the woods, it is the same or even worst. I took my mother to the Pampanga Specialists Hospital for emergency treatment, but even before she got admitted the hospital is demanding P50K deposit when I told them that I don’t have that much cash and can not withraw from the bank being Sunday, I was told by the hospital staff that they do accept land titles as collateral. Filipinos have mostly lost their soul and now has the almighty “cash” as their God.

    11. Emilio Marayag on

      What do you expect from the top government people and greedy businessmen when they they didn’t give much attention to the Yolanda victims, the evacuees of the Zamboanga siege, and the rising number of unemployed. They’re bunch of materialistic and heartless creatures bereft of human values!

    12. i see your point…. i could see the default sideswipe references to aldub from a mile away and the inevitable comparisons to a first world country’s healthcare system… but maybe, in a way its your (and your colleagues’ in the media) fault too…

      if you are not so busy reporting “news that sell” (napoles, junjun binay, enrile getting out) and somehow tell the public about good things as well like a hero like Mr. Heck marrying a Pinay and settling here – among other things… then perhaps telling his story and his ordeal, awareness from it would’ve engaged us (the public) and perhaps things might’ve turned out differently…

      what were you reporting during the time he settled in this country? what were you telling the public about when he was running out of money to settle his hospital bills?

    13. I’m wondering why in all the news stories, editorial and discussions about this tragic incident, the name of the hospital is never mentioned. And what is the DOJ doing about this blatant violation of the law? I know that refusing to provide medical assistance on account of insolvency of the patient is a criminal act.

    14. The Pope says a lot of the same things.

      Recently my part time workers’ wife went into the local Catholic hospital to deliver a baby. He came to me his eyes alight with joy as he announced this. Then they shifted to shame as he asked for P500 so he could pay the bill to avail the hostage release of his wife and newborn…..

      Being Catholic I was quite astounded they would dictate moral values re contraception yet expect those kids to be born on the street if one doesn’t have the cash…

      BTW…love your writing MARLEN….

    15. Hi Mr. Ronquillo. I totally agree with your article. I am a physician myself but as you may know, there are two sides to a story. I think the hospital involved needs to air their side as well. Nobel laureate or not though, it is totally inhumane to not do anything in emergency situations. Besides that, further treatment or continuation of care could be done in another hospital not necessarily a private one. As long as the first hospital has dealt with the life and death issue, they have all the right to transfer this patient to a government hospital. That is not, by definition, refusal of care…it is only transfer of care. Now comparing the Philippines to the US healthcare system is like comparing apples with oranges. They have their own issues too. If your friend did not have any healthcare insurance, any hospital in the US will treat her and not refuse her care. If however she had basic private health, they would transfer her to another hospital or ask her to pay her bills too. That is Healthcare 101 for you. Hospitals also have bills to pay. Having just one non-paying patient would eat up all their revenue that is why they tend not to continue care for such patients. I know it is inhumane but that is just how the cookie crumbles.

    16. it’s more fun in the philippines if you have money to spend. it’s one hell of a place to die if you don’t.

    17. Horrible in a city of luxe hotels, shops, eateries and led by money-grubbing, corrupt officials from Malacanang to municipal level. The country deserves condemnation. Shame!

    18. “The soul is lost and society becomes callous to the core especially toward the vulnerable”.

      Generally speaking this has been true since the history of colonization began.