• Locked gates, cold hearts

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    Why petitioners won’t give up the battle for children’s hospital

    Violeta de Guzman comes from a family of doctors, many of whom serve indigent Filipinos. She knows about the urgent needs that crop up when poor families have to cope illness. So when doctors and medical workers at the country’s premier children’s hospital sent out a help call to foil threatened eviction, she and friends spent hours ranting on their Facebook pages.

    The freelance writer went to bed angry. Helpless, hopeless were the words that ran through her mind. Violeta knew she cared. Her friends cared. But what chances did the poor have against the combined might of big business and government? How could they win a 30-year struggle?

    Then she remembered signing a petition on Change.org, the world’s largest petition platform. Violeta says she suddenly felt empowered, knowing a medium existed for people to merge energies and passions.

    The following day she started a petition on Change.org, calling for a halt to the eviction of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center and the turnover of a deed of donation for the land the hospital stands on. The petition now has more than 7,300 signatures.

    Barred

    Violeta and her friends, with some 50 health activists went on October 1 to deliver their petition to the National Housing Authority, a government office mandated to help poor Filipinos own their homes.

    They found the gates of the agency barred. It took plenty of noise on social media and radio news programs for an official to come down and receive the petition through the barred gates.

    “I wasn’t surprised,” says Violeta. “I was ready for that. They’ve been bull-headed about the whole thing. PCMC has been begging for security — for 30 years.”

    White-haired Violeta finally gets an NHA official to come down and receive her petition, seeking a halt to the eviction of the nation’s premier children’s hospital. Photo by Christine Roque, Change.org

    Philippines

    An earlier Malacanang assurance on non-eviction prompted de Guzman to call for an initial victory, while asking fellow petitioners to step up the campaign and exercise vigilance.

    She says subsequent statements by officials validated her caution. “They probably gave the reassurance as people are already angry enough without adding this,” Violeta notes, referring to a running scandal involving pork and other discretionary and lump funds.

    “They might just be waiting it out and then pounce once we let down our guard,” she warns. “They is why we must not stop pushing for the turnover of a deed of donation.”

    PCMC has been asking the NHA for decades to donate the land it occupies. The agency says the hospital owes more than P1 billion for unpaid lease. It also says it only wants a fraction of the land that is not allotted for the hospital. The disputed portion is set to be occupied as part of a business development district. The agency says it will guarantee an area for affected PCMC facilities.

    Priorities

    Supporters of the beleaguered institution, however, say that in the scheme of funds lost to corruption, snatching a fraction of land with medical facilities shows the government’s warped priorities.

    Rovik Obanil of Quezon City says people pay taxes to fund public services. “Given the mind- boggling amounts lost to Tanda, Sexy, Pogi and their ilk, who is going to believe that gov’t can’t find the funds to keep PCMC where it is?”

    The three names are code names allagedly given by operators to legislators linked to a P10-billion, missing-pork scandal.

    PCMC is not just for poor people. Even the middle class trusts it as an affordable hospital that provides top-notch service. But most, including doctors who once trained at PCMC, see the threat of eviction as a direct assault on poor patients.

    Billy Wooton of Cabanatuan City, a former intern, says: “I know the hardships of poor Filipinos.I saw the hardship of doctors just to save them.”

    Antonio Salvador of Batangas City undertook pediatric surgery training in PCMC. “It is the best training program for pediatric surgery because the cases are well distributed in all the disciplines. I know PCMC has helped a lot of people because of their revolutionary ways to treat children despite of the lack of government support, a testament to their management skills.”

    Sympathy

    “One very good and much-needed children’s hospital vs yet ANOTHER “development”? I think the choice is very, very clear,” says Mary Ann Marchadesch of Pasig City.

    PCMC champion Pia Alonzo of Santa Macela credits hospital staff for saving her eldest child:

    “First hand I saw how congress played around with their budget, at one point having residents get P1,000 stipend per month even when they do straight 36-hour duty. And I’ve seen so many deaths, especially in the ICU (intensive care unit) when indigent patients can’t afford medicines. And I’ve seen those who survived who may not have made it without PCMC.”

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