SC orders Palace to defend sale of orthopedic hospital

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THE Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday ordered Malacañang to reply to the petition filed by a group of indigent patients and health professionals opposed to the privatization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) in Quezon City.

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Meeting en banc, the high court issued a ruling ordering Malacañang and the Department of Health (DOH) to comment on the petition filed by the People’s Health Movement, Head Alliance for Democracy (head) and congressmen from Bayan Muna and Kabataan party-list seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the transfer of the POC to a private consortium.

Named respondents were President Benigno Aquino 3rd, Health Secretary Enrique Ona, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, Health Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa and the Megawide-World Citi Consortium, among others.

Megawide-Word Citi Consortium won the bid to operate the POC for a period of 25 years.

The respondents were also given 10 days to comment on the prayer for a TRO
requested by the petitioners.

POC, the country‘s only hospital specializing in orthopedic disorders including cases of spinal cord injuries, is being privatized as part of President Aquino’s public-private partnership (PPP) project of funding even social services.

Saying poor Filipinos will be bled dry by the medical fees to be charged by the doctors of the privatized hospital, the petitioners claimed that the government has abandoned its duty to extend basic social services to the poor and underprivileged such as health to a private entity. They, therefore, called for the issuance of a preliminary injunction.
The group criticized the use of the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) law to privatize health services.

With the Megawide-World Citi Consortium bagging the P5.6-billion concession agreement last December, the firm will design, build, finance, operate and maintain the 700-bed facility in the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) compound along East Avenue, Quezon City until the end of the 25-year concession period, after which it will transfer the management of the hospital back to the DOH.
The petitioners said the “modernized” POC is allowed to allocate only 70 beds (10-percent capacity) for service (indigent) patients and 420 for sponsored (PhilHealth) patients—compared to the current 562 beds or 85 percent capacity for indigent patients under the winning bid, in violation of Republic Act 1939.

RA 1939 mandates government hospitals like the POC to allot no less than 90 percent of its bed capacity as free or charity beds.

“The privatization of POC, with respect to its employees, will result in unconsented transfer/reassignment of its present employees which is tantamount to constructive dismissal. This violates constitutional provisions that guarantee security of tenure,” the petition reads.

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