A group of indigent patients and health professionals asked the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the impending privatization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) in Quezon City.
The POC, the only Philippine hospital that specializes in orthopedic disorders including cases of spinal cord injuries, is being privatized as part of President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s public-private partnership (PPP) strategy of funding social services.
Saying poor Filipinos will be bled dry by commercial fees, the petitioners, who called for the issuance of a preliminary injunction, claimed that the government has abandoned its duty to extend basic social services such as health care to the poor and underprivileged.
The filing of the petition was led by the People’s Health Movement, Head Alliance for Democracy (Head) and congressmen from Bayan Muna and Kabataan party-list.
Named respondents were the President, 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.
The petitioners criticized the use of the Build-Operate-Transfer law to privatize health
“Providing health services to the people, especially the poor and vulnerable, is one of the fundamental functions of government. This function should not be subject to the profit motive and other influences but should remain a core public function responsive to the democratic principles and accountable to public officials,” the petition read.
The P5.6-billion concession agreement signed in December stipulates that the Megawide-World Citi Consortium 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, and then transfer the management to the Department of Health (DOH).
The petitioners said that the winning bid lets the “modernized” POC allocate only 70 beds for indigent patients and 420 for sponsored (PhilHealth) patients. It currently offers 562 beds or 85 percent capacity for indigent patients.
Republic Act 1939 mandates government hospitals like the POC to allot not less than 90 percent of its bed capacity as free or charity beds.
“In short, a privatized POC, which for years has been accepting and treating patients regardless of their ability to pay or whether they have PhilHealth or not, will be turning away patients, specifically the indigent ones, if not lock out even those who are already presently confined,” the petitioners said.