Children’s hospital gets NHA ‘eviction notice’
MANILA, Philippines—Like being served an eviction notice.
The Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) described the demand of the National Housing Authority (NHA) for the government-run hospital to purchase the lot it has stood on for nearly 34 years at a price of P1.1 billion as a tacit eviction from the National Government Center in Diliman, Quezon City.
The NHA constantly invokes fund-raising as a reason to raise revenues for the relocation of informal-settler families in justifying its P1.1-billion demand from the PCMC, which has been silently struggling to keep its place at the corner of Quezon Avenue and Agham Road for over 30 years.
Officials of the tertiary hospital are fully committed to its mandate of subsidizing the medical treatment of indigent children through six administrations, dating back to President Marcos’ premartial law rule.
The PCMC treats over 60,000 patients annually, most of whom come from poor families. Paying patients are only allocated 70 of 260 hospital beds, what with the yearly increase in the rate of impoverished or service patients.
“They cannot just make us disappear,” PCMC executive director Julius Lecciones told the Inquirer, referring to a move by the NHA to sell portions of the hospital lot by piecemeal to other government agencies.
Just last month, the NHA sold 2,500 square meters of the hospital land to the National Economic Development Authority’s Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) for over P83 million.
NHA general manager Chito Cruz confirmed that his office had been trying for years to collect compensation from the PCMC for the lot it is occupying. He said he gave an “ultimatum” to the hospital to avoid the expiration of the budget allocated by the national government to the PIDS for the purchase of the 2,500-sq-m land.
“We have a standing collection request for the longest time to the PCMC which has, as we know, an insufficient budget,” Cruz told the Inquirer in a phone interview.
He said the PIDS was looking for space where they could construct an office building after receiving a DBM allocation, which was why 2,500 sq m of the land occupied by the PCMC was sold.
“That is only a portion of the PCMC parking lot and will affect only the sewerage treatment plant which can be relocated,” he said.
When NHA commercial and industrial estates department manager Higino Equipaje had written a July 15 letter to Lecciones about the sale, he had asked for a “firm intent” from the PCMC executive director for the hospital to buy the remaining 34,420 sq m (or over 3.4 ha) of the lot atP1.18 billion, computed from the selling price of P32,500 per square meter.
Equipaje had stated, “We would like to secure PCMC’s firm commitment to work out the funding source with the Department of Finance and the Department of Budget and Management and provide NHA a timeline on the acquisition to enable us to report to our NHA board of directors.”
The PCMC said its “firm commitment” to secure the funds was to ensure that the property “will not be included in our [NHA’s] regular targets for disposition to other interested parties,” according to the NHA officer.
Transfer of title
Since 1980, the PCMC has been asking the national government to either donate or finance the transfer of the title to the original 63,656-sq-meter (6.3-ha) property the hospital is built on to its name.
The total area was subsequently divided by the NHA into two lots measuring 21,430 sq m (2.1 ha) and 16,322 sq m (1.6 ha) under two titles, which resulted in the PCMC straddling two lands.
On the 2.1-ha lot sits the PCMC building with a fourth of it, comprised of the sewerage treatment plant, oxygen plant, generator and powerhouse, motor pool, the engineering and maintenance building, materials recovery facility and parking space, extending to the 1.6-ha land.
During the decades of unanswered pleas to past presidents, government budget managers and health secretaries, the 6.3 ha shrunk to 3.7 ha after portions of the lot were given to the Office of the Ombudsman and the Court of Tax Appeals through two presidential proclamations.
“When a portion of the lot was given to the Office of the Ombudsman, there was no consultation. Everything was discussed directly between the DOH (Department of Health) secretary and then Ombudsman Aniano Desierto. It was then that the NHA separated the titles for land occupied by the PCMC,” Lecciones told the Inquirer.
The PCMC almost secured a donation of the property during the terms of Presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo but the move was scuttled both times.
Estrada had been ousted from office before the case was resolved, while during Arroyo’s term, then NHA General Manager Edgardo Pamintuan had advised former Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit to pursue other options other than donation.
On Dec. 5, 2007, then NHA General Manager Federico Laxa informed the PCMC that the lot had been offered as collateral to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) for a credit line facility to fund the relocation of families affected by the North-South Rail Linkage project.
No ‘viable’ options
Fortunately, Lecciones recalled, when the bank learned that the property being offered for collateral was the one occupied by the PCMC, the LBP advised NHA to offer a different lot as collateral. The NHA then continued to demand to be financially compensated for its lots while the PCMC asked for the status quo “until it can come up with viable options.”
In an Oct. 2, 2012, letter, the NHA informed the hospital of the PIDS’ interest in purchasing nearly 2,500 sq m of the 1.6-ha lot, and began soliciting a firm offer from the PCMC for the land, which the agency described as “unutilized.”
“We told the PIDS, we were opposing the sale. They can have a lot but not at our expense,” Lecciones said, adding that the PCMC asked for a status quo pending the resolution of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute campaign to keep intact its land, which was likewise sold by the NHA to a major commercial land developer and had recently been given funds to buy the lot it sits on.
He told the Inquirer, “It is not true that the lot (1.6 ha) is unutilized because our vital areas and buildings critical to our operations are there,” adding that the PCMC has been long appealing to agencies of the national government for intervention.
“We have been asking the Department of Budget Management, the Office of the President, whoever will listen to us,” Lecciones said.
He revealed that in a recent meeting with NHA officials, the agency had suggested that the PCMC transfer to a 2,500-sq-m property owned by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources where they could build a high-rise building.
“I told them it would be against the very concept of the Lungsod ng Kabataan,” he said, referring to the original plan that established the PCMC, and added that a high-rise would be dangerous for the patients of the hospital who are mostly children.