ACTUALLY, this column is about how corruption in the Philippines has forced Filipino nurses to leave the country in droves, like passengers escaping the virus of politicians’ plunder—including the P3.8 billion worth of trains contracted with Busan Universal Rail, Inc.
Okay, time to backtrack a bit.
In July 2012, BBC ran a report on “more than 200,000 registered Philippine nurses who could not find work while another 80,000 nursing students were graduating that year to join an already saturated job market.”
With the end of the US’ H-1A foreign nurse-specific visa program, the long wait for priority dates of the EB3 immigrant visa category and the H-1B visa lottery program keeping foreign nurses and professionals at bay, the most desired destination for Filipino nurses resulted in a slowdown of recruitment.
The slowdown in RN deployment created a decrease in enrolment. Nursing schools and programs were shuttered.
The year before, then Health Secretary Enrique Ona, confessed that if he had a daughter, he would give her the same advice he gave to the incoming college students in 2011: stay out of nursing.
In the same year, former Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz “advised unemployed nurses in the country to seek jobs in the booming business process outsourcing industry, which has an array of non-clinical but medical-related information outsourcing opportunities such as medical transcriptionists, billers and health care secretaries.”
Not enough jobs
There are simply not enough jobs to go around for nursing graduates and even those who have passed the licensure exams. To compound the situation, hospitals and other healthcare facilities took advantage of Republic Act 9418. or the Volunteer Act of 2007, by having a steady and plentiful supply of nurses doing the work of regular licensed RNs on volunteer, unpaid basis.
Despite the issuance of Memorandum 2011-0238 by Secretary Ona, the supply of licensed nurses overwhelmed the limited employment opportunities.
To alleviate unemployment, stave the exodus and provide a semblance of hope to the licensed RNs, the Departments of Health and Labor came up with a joint project to let nurses get experience by fielding them to underserved areas.
In August 2013, Secretary Ona announced a 50 percent reduction in the hiring of nurses under the Department of Health Program Registered Nurses for Health Enhancement and Local Service Project (RN Heals). The program started with 10,000 participants, doubled in 2013 and had to be scaled back to the original target.
The government explained that RN Heals was never intended to provide employment but rather “learning and development,” so that participating nurses were not regular employees but simply given allowances or stipends, P8,000 allowances and—where local government units could afford it—an additional P2,000 counterpart.
To salve the wound, the former DOH Secretary said nurses who would be hired would get higher pay at P16,000 monthly.
During the term of former President Benigno Aquino 3rd, Congress passed two measures aimed at mandating the guaranteed compensation of Philippine nurses from P228,924.00 to P344,074.00 through two comprehensive nursing legislations: House Bill 6411 and a counterpart Senate bill.
The bill provides a minimum base pay which shall not be lower than Salary Grade 15, or its equivalent, for Filipino nurses in both government and private health institutions.
Pnoy refuses to sign
Despite a strong clamor to implement what Congress approved, Aquino refused to sign the Comprehensive Nursing bill into law, saying that nurses’ salaries had just been raised and another increase “will undermine the existing government salary structure and cause wage distortion not only among medical and health care practitioners but also other professionals in the government service.”
Finally, Aquino explained, the proposed increase would affect the financial capacity of most local government hospitals and financial viability of private hospitals and non-government health institutions. “Raising salaries of nurses would lead to “downsizing of hospital personnel and consequent increase in health care costs.”
Aquino simply meant the government did not have the funds to pay nurses decent wages without endangering other sectors of society.
The government’s main source of revenue are taxes, with some non-tax revenue also being collected.
Govt is the problem
Problem is, the government is the problem.
At about the same time that nurses were being worked to debt as volunteers, a Washington D.C.-based research organization, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), released a study in 2012 showing that the “Philippine economy was cheated of $132.9 billion (more than P6 trillion) through illicit money outflows in the past five decades (1960-2011), including proceeds from crime, corruption and tax evasion. The losses amounted to more than P357 billion annually on average. The researchers (Kar and LeBlanc) found that 72 percent of the outflows were from “misinvoicing.”
On top of the long list of plunder cases pending at the Office of the Ombudsman, the purchase of P3.8 billion worth of unusable trains stands out for its longevity and lack of big fish indictments, much less conviction.
During a hearing on the corruption charges, Sen. Grace Poe filed a resolution seeking a legislative inquiry into the issues surrounding the maintenance of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and the continuing technical problems since the government entered “an anomalous maintenance contract with the Busan Universal Rail, Inc. in 2016.”
The deranged solution offered by the top legislative honcho, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr.? Remove plunder from the list of crimes punishable by death.
In a purely demented world, that translates to “Live and let leave.”
Spare the plunderers the death penalty even if such an obnoxious practice would force Philippine nurses to leave. Never mind if such guarantees the derailment of the country’s economy.
But who said politician-plunderers seek office to serve the people?
Zombies are better than these politicians. The living dead at least want to have brains.