By KIMBERLY NGABIT QUITASOL
Video by RAMON BALANEG
BAGUIO CITY — In a press conference on April 4, Dean Judith Magwilang of the University of the Cordilleras College of Nursing together with Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) officials asserted that nurses fighting for just wages, stable jobs and advocating peace do not deserve to be vilified or associated with any armed group.
As a health worker and educator, Magwilang advocates providing assistance and developing the skills of community health workers.
Along with her students, she provide services and training especially in far-flung villages of the Cordillera. The dean also supports the call for just wages and better benefits, and stable jobs for nurses.
But her passion and advocacy made her a target for red-tagging and vilification on social media.
Troll accounts used her photo, holding slogans calling for socio-economic reforms through the peace negotiations and regular jobs for nurses, in a Facebook meme accusing progressive health workers organizations of being front of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Not a communist
“I am not a communist and I do not advocate communism,” Magwilang said.
Her college has been working with the Cordillera Health Education, Services, and Training in the Cordillera Region (Chestcore), a non-government organization providing health care services and trainings to Cordillera communities.
She believes that nurses will become better healthcare providers if they are aware of the health situation in the country and train with community nurses.
“We mold our students to be better professional nurses who can make a difference in the health care system and the nation,” she said.
The PNA president of Baguio City, Carmen Bolinto, underscored that health workers should partake in protecting the environment and pursuing peace because war, poverty and polluted environment among others affect health and generate illnesses.
She added that nurses are right to demand better pay, regular jobs and a higher budget for health services from government.
Bolinto explained that when government fail to provide sufficient budget for healthcare, this leads to inadequate health services and low salary for health workers.
“It is unfortunate that the trend in our country is to tag or label anyone communist or supporter of communists when you advocate for the protection of rights to life and health,” she lamented.
Some of the Facebook accounts sharing the malicious post red-tagging health workers and groups were traced and found to be fake according to PNA National President Dr. Erlinda Palaganas.
The most recent account discovered and reported, she said, was of a certain John Lee who posed as a company nurse of Makati Shangrilla.
“We called Makati Shangrilla and asked them if we could talk to their employee, turns out they do not have any employee named John Lee,” she said.
Palaganas said that some accounts were real people whom she had been talking to through chat to explain that the post they shared are malicious and can bring harm to the person on the photo.
“Many of them understood and helped take down the posts,” she said.
Speak up, do not fear
Rayne Suyam of Chestcore said everyone should stand against red-tagging because it endangers the lives of people.
“Red-tagging is not new to Chestcore and it does not stop at red-tagging, it escalates to harassment, trumped up charges and even death,” she said.
She mentioned the case of her coworker, Rachel Mariano, who is currently jailed at the Ilocos Sur provincial jail for trumped-up charges. The Philippine Army filed murder cases against Mariano, accusing her being a communist rebel who killed soldiers in a clash.
“We have been vocal against these attacks because being silent will not do us any good,” Suyam said.
Magwilang said nothing will change, she will continue with her work.
“I do not fear because my conscience is clear,” she said.
Bolinto encouraged all nurses to unite and work together for lasting peace, regular jobs and an increase in health budget.
“Change in the status quo or demands for improvements in the health of the Filipino people is not given or offered in a silver platter. We cannot just sit down and wait for that to happen,” the she said. # Kimberlie Quitasol