Right to health campaign gains ground in the Philippines by the passage of the anti-privatization bill.

The anti-privatization bill aims to protect the right to health of the Filipinos, especially the poor, by maintaining and upholding the character of government hospitals and by prohibiting any form of privatization.

TWHA partner Council for Health and Development’s (CHD) right to health campaign against privatization of health care in the Philippines continues to gain ground.

TWHA and its consortium partners Solidagro and Kiyo have been working with their Philippine partner organizations in carrying out a rights-based approach to more effectively claim people's rights particularly, the people's right to health, right to food and children's rights.

Through CHD’s and other progressive health groups’ persistent lobbying and relentless mass actions, the House of Representatives approved a bill that will prohibit the privatization of all government hospitals in the country. This is a hard-won victory for them and the whole progressive social movement which has been at the forefront of opposing the government’s reckless pursuit of privatizing health care and other social services under the neoliberal framework of development.

Save Fabella Hospital

Last year, it will be recalled, CHD, together with progressive health groups, Health Alliance for Democracy and Alliance of Health Workers and women’s group and TWHA partner Gabriela, thwarted the government’s attempt to close Fabella Hospital, a government hospital considered to be the world’s busiest maternity hospital (it handles an average of 70-80 deliveries per day). The hospital has become the refuge of the poorest of the poor mothers in Metro Manila and nearby provinces due to its free services.

The health groups asserted that the closure attempt of the hospital is part of a scheme to pave the way for the privatization of government hospitals in the country.

They said that since the last two decades, the government has been trying to privatize hospitals to cover up its failure to adequately fund public hospitals and provide free health services to the people, especially the poor.

They added that the failure to allocate adequate funds for government hospitals, in particular, and health services, in general, is the result of institutionalized corruption in the government. Public funds intended for the delivery of basic social services to the people always end up in private pockets, particularly of the lawmakers themselves.

Anti-privatization bill

House Bill 7437, An Act Prohibiting the Privatization of Government hospitals, Public Health Facilities and Public Health Services, shall ban private entities from engaging in a public-private partnership, corporatizing, contracting out of equipment, entering into a joint venture, franchising, controlling management, leasing and charging users in government hospitals and other public health facilities.

Under the bill, at least 90 percent of the total bed capacity of all government hospitals should be allotted to indigent patients.

The bill also seeks to penalize violators of the proposed bill with a fine ranging from PHP100,000 to PHP800,000 and even removal from public office of responsible officials.

Protection of the right to health of the people

The bill aims to protect the right to health of the Filipinos, especially the poor, by maintaining and upholding the character of government hospitals and by prohibiting any form of privatization.

"The bill is important in a country where hospitalization (for common diseases such as pneumonia) can cost three months' worth of a worker's wage; where six out of 10 patients die without ever seeing a doctor; where scores of patients have to line up before the break of dawn in the out-patient department of public hospitals only to be told that the limited slot for charity has already been filled up; where preventable and curable diseases continue to top the leading causes of morbidity and mortality; where it is virtually impossible for people from far-flung areas to consult a health worker because no public health facilities are present and transportation to the "nearest" hospital or clinic is worth a week's income; or where the sick could hardly get the treatment they need because of user and service fees; and where public healthcare becomes a commodity with a price tag for every service," said Eleanor Jara, executive director of CHD.

The bill was filed by the progressive Makabayan party-list representatives after a series of consultation meetings with the said health groups. CHD provided relevant inputs on health care issues, particularly on the adverse impacts of the privatization of government hospitals, services, and facilities to people, especially the poor.

CHD was also among the primary resources invited in the committee hearings to exchange views on the said bill. As part of its lobbying efforts, CHD, together with other health groups, went around the offices of the health committee members to discuss with them the necessity of passing the bill.

Government responsibility

The health groups assert that public hospitals, as part of the public health care delivery system, must be fully developed and strengthened by the government, not privatized.

CHD has been raising deep concern over the deteriorating health situation in the country due to the intensifying privatization of health services.

This has worsened the miserable condition of the poor due to costly hospital fees, reduction of the national budget for health, unregulated entry of private clinics and diagnostic and laboratory companies charging exorbitant fees, and phasing out of charity wards in public hospitals.

It is high time to pass a law that will make public healthcare more accessible and available to the people and make it illegal to make business out of health in public hospitals, public health facilities, and public health services; that will ensure a public healthcare system fueled by government fund and not indebted to any profit-making entity,” said Jara.

Just the first step

However, the bill’s approval in the House of Representatives is just the first step for the bill to become a law. It will be transmitted to the Senate and will undergo the same legislative process. Then a bicameral conference committee will be constituted to settle, reconcile or thresh out differences on any provision of the bill. Finally, it will be transmitted to the President for approval.

CHD and the network partners are now making the rounds in the offices of the senators and are now waiting for the re-opening of the Senate sessions this month to start the committee hearings for the said bill. Another TWHA partner, Karapatan, has committed to help CHD in its lobbying efforts with the senators.