Commentary: The Unhealthy Third SONA: a reaction

This is a reaction from Community Health Education, Services, Training in Cordillera Region (CHESTCORE) on Duterte’s third SONA.

Duterte delivered his third State of the Nation Address as presidential with the omission of his usual vulgar expletives, however the absence of vulgarities did not cover up the real state of the nation.

Virtually the SONA did not spell out any new ideas for bettering the lives of the majority poor, instead the agenda he presented focused on his plans of continuing his three main programs which are the chilling war on drugs and deceptive campaigns against crime and corruption. The agenda looms so ominous with his perilous pronouncement that his only concern is human lives but obstructed human rights as nothing. This clearly shows his twisted logic. Human lives and human rights could not simply be parted. He forgot that it is the foremost responsibility and obligation of the State to protect the human lives of its constituents against any human rights violations perpetrated by the government and its armed forces who are mandated to protect the people.

The real state of the nation therefore is the absolute disregard for the human lives and rights of the target defenseless and small time drug users and pushers that roam the urban slums. The target of his wars has now expanded to include perceived terrorists. These perceived terrorists are actually socio-political activists, human rights defenders and members of progressive organizations who advocate genuine change with “tapang”and “malasakit”.

Duterte’s agenda shunned away from the pressing issues of poverty, unemployment, unbridled soaring prices of basic and basic social services. The touted transformative change that Duterte promised when he ascended the presidency in 2016 failed to materialize. The change brewed by Duterte is the installation of a despotic regime and the most evident symptom is the brutal suppression of dissent against the regimes’ tyrannical rule.

Health Arena

Health as a basic right has been disregarded with Duterte’s obeisance to continue the Universal Health Care System. The continuing of such program translates to the total privatization of Public Health Care Services. Privatization would mean the taking away of the remaining bits and pieces of basic social services which could not even trickle down to the marginalized sectors. This will surely indurate the illness of the people, physically and mentally.

The Universal Health Care System puts premium to the continuance of the Philippine Health Insurance (PhilHealth). PhP1.5 B of the 2018 budget was diverted to PhilHealth. This renders the final impairment of the delivery of critical health services for the poor majority. It was noted that the Financial Statement of PhilHealth in September 2013 reported a benefit payment of PhP10.871 billion to the private health institutions, while PhP5.564 to the government sector. This demonstrate that PhilHealth is more maximized in private hospitals than government-run health facilities where majority of poor people go. PhilHealth’s own data show, patients’ out-of-pocket expenses are still at 58 percent contradicting the much hyped but misleading zero balance billing policy.

The budget for direct health services particularly the budget for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) of government public health care institutions was cut. The MOOE serves as the lifeblood of government hospitals as it is the main source of funding for the basic hospital needs of the patients. The MOOE covers the budget for medicines, medical supplies, communications and utilities. The government instead is stealthily concocting its specialty menu of granting total fiscal autonomy to all public hospital by 2020.

The TSEK AP program or free medical consultation for 20 million Filipinos is a total failure. A total of 5,700 school-based barangay health stations were supposed to be built in two phases under the TSEK AP project, but as of 2018, only 270 units have been completed when the project was terminated. In a Senate inquiry, it was divulged that the project was terminated because of DOH’s failure to comply with its obligations. Most existing BHS in the rural areas are dilapidated, and lacks personnel, equipment and medicines.

Because of this mal-prioritization of the government, the masses are deprived of primary health care services which is geared towards preventive and promotive services such as immunization and basic health education. The DOH admitted its failure to eliminate measles. Dengue and Leptospirosis cases are on the rise. Infectious diseases which are preventable and curable remain to be the top causes of morbidity and mortality in the nation.

Health Care Workers

To date the DOH remains to be the number one recruiter of labor contractualization in the forms of job order and contract of service employees. The health workers remain to be understaffed, overworked and underpaid but the Alliance of Health Workers points out that there are 22,905 unfilled plantilla positions for health care personnel.

Socio-economic Reforms down the drain

Duterte has totally blocked the road to peace with his unilateral termination of the much awaited Peace Talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). This has totally unmasked Duterte of any pretence and hypocrisy of addressing the root causes of the ongoing civil war in the nation. Like the previous administrations, Duterte relies heavily on the militarist approach and other cunning schemes such as the localized holding of peace talks. A militarist approach won’t end the armed conflict but will only breed more violence, economic dislocation and more suffering to the people.

Recently, Duterte signed the much applauded laws on Mental Health and institutionalization of a national feeding program for undernourished children in the country. These are indeed laudable acts, but then the supposed goals of these programs are doomed because of the ongoing rule of tyranny which is the foremost cause of diseases afflicting the mental and biological health of the people.

The Duterte administration must diagnose the real ailment of the nation and prescribe the appropriate medicine. The only medicine that shall revive this ailing nation is the rooting out of the socio-political and economic determinants of poverty. Until then, the raging war continues, the abominable health situation shall continue to degenerate.

In the Cordillera Region

In the region, trumped up cases of murders, kidnappings, and other major crimes have been slapped against legitimate socio-political activists and progresive organizations. Those who care to serve the marginalized sectors in the urban and in the far flung areas where basic social services barely trickles down have been marked as criminals.

CHESTCORE, the health arm of the Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera has existed since 1981. It has a track record of assisting far flung communities set up their community based health programs. The service workers continue to dedicate themselves but what has this government come up with? These health workers have been harassed and vilified by the armed forces of the state in the past and now the Program Coordinator, Rachel Mariano has been slapped with several counts of murder!

We challenge the Duterte administration to fulfil his famous slogan, “Tapang at Malasakit.” His “malasakit” must be for the poor and his “tapang” directed to the defense of the defenseless including the socio-political activists who have opted to serve the poor.

We call on the Duterte administration to stop witch hunting and dismiss the trumped up charges against all socio-political activists and human rights defenders! # nordis.net

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