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Workers restive over Orthopedic Center upgrade despite Ona’s assurance

/ 03:12 AM December 10, 2013

The P5.6-billion upgrade of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) is a go, but its own employees remain restive despite assurances from the government that they will keep their jobs.

A group of POC employees with the backing of religious groups staged a protest Monday in front of the Department of Health (DOH) in Manila against plans for the state-run hospital in Quezon City, which were approved Nov. 21 by the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

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The DOH said the hospital’s modernization would not only increase its bed capacity but also offer more space for indigent patients and more affordable services. It was also promoted as the first health-related project under the Aquino administration’s PPP, or public-private sector partnership, scheme.

Joined by members of the Religious Discernment Group (RDG), hospital employees who are also members of the militant Alliance of Health Workers suspect that what the Neda had approved was the sale of POC to private investors who would move healthcare further out of the poor’s reach.

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“This privatization will displace and further deprive poor people of health services… since POC is the only public orthopedic hospital in the country,” said AHW president Sean Herbert Velchez, noting that the more than 1,000 hospital workers had also become uncertain about their future.

“Done as though by a thief in the night, the privatization of POC amid disaster situations (the aftermath of Supertyphoon “Yolanda”) shows the Aquino government’s callousness and insensitivity,” said AHW in a statement.

But Health Secretary Enrique Ona, sounding frustrated, doused such fears.

“That’s the problem. We’ve been explaining to them but they don’t want to listen,” he said, referring to the protesters. “I’ve been explaining that to them but they don’t believe us. What can I do? They will not lose their jobs.”

The upgrade was greenlighted by President Aquino in September 2012. Two months later, the DOH issued an invitation to qualify to bid and held a prebidding conference in January 2013 with nine prospective bidders.

Only Megawide Construction Corp.-World and World Citi Inc. was able to submit bid documents before deadline.

The DOH targets construction to start in 2014 and completion in May 2016.—Tina Santos and Maricar Brizuela

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TAGS: hospitals, Philippine Orthopedic Center, protest, workers
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