Is this the tipping point?
For the longest time, I had been quite frustrated with the medical profession. It was pretty obvious that the pandemic response since the beginning was short on science and long on political and economical fronts. In my mind, the people who could best lead the pandemic response, as well as give us updates fresh from the ground, were the healthcare workers themselves.
But, except for that one time in 2020 when the medical profession asked for a timeout during the midyear surge, they had been pretty silent throughout this year. When we had a surge in April, I would listen to TV interviews of doctors, waiting for any of them to call out the government and give their own strong opinions about what they thought should be done based on science. Disappointingly, instead of pressuring the government to act faster and use scientific key indicators to make decisions, this was what I heard them saying “Pagod na kami pero kakayanin namin” (“We are tired but we will still do the best we can”). While a few doctors, including Dr. Tony Leachon, were lone voices in the desert calling for higher testing levels, better contact tracing, and speedier vaccination, the general message sent by the medical profession was that they would simply “adjust”. If I were DOH, that meant there was no clear imperative for urgency.
I asked a doctor-friend why the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers were not louder and more insistent on science-based decisions from government instead of “making do”. I was told that there were internal workings that made those who should speak out, reluctant to do so. I guess it did not help too that the few times that these doctors showed up at the meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), they were yelled at.
Lately though, the tides appear to be turning.
Several recent incidents probably gave impetus to this.
One was the untimely resignation of many healthcare workers across different hospitals, with threatened mass resignations in others, owing largely to the long overdue delay in their special risk allowance (SRA). During lunch breaks, healthcare workers, still in their PPEs, were seen rallying in the streets in front of their hospitals, demanding what was due them based on the Bayanihan law.
Soon after came the COA audit report showing that DOH had transferred as much as P42-billion to the Department of Management’s Procurement Services (PS-DBM). Those funds, in turn, were used to purchase face masks, face shields, test kits, and PPEs which were allegedly overpriced and substandard. Despite the Department of Health (DOH)’s standard required shelf life of 24 to 36 months, test kits expiring within six (6) months were still purchased and accepted. The DOH claims that a 6-month shelf life was the standard for novel diagnostic test kits back then.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee held several hearings to investigate these findings, focusing specifically on one of the companies involved, Pharmally, and whether it had any direct connections to Michael Yang, a Chinese national and a former Presidential Economic Adviser.
The President reacted to the hearings with a directive to all its department secretaries and staff, barring them from attending any further Senate hearings by the committee — a move that surprises me and makes me wonder why since he promised to take swift action with just a “whiff of corruption”.
Maybe all these became the straw that broke the camel’s back. After all, we have healthcare workers on one hand, begging for the release of benefits due them since last year. And on the other hand, you have Pharmally executives owning very expensive luxury cars, seemingly overpriced transactions, and a questionable financial capability on the part of Pharmally to even qualify to be awarded billions of contracts on a capitalization of less than P1-million.
Last October 6, the medical profession and health sector came together (finally!!!) and sent out a strong signal that they have had ENOUGH! A collective but short statement was released in support of the Senate hearings with a call to action for other agencies.
This was followed by an even stronger collective statement issued by the medical profession and the health sector as an expression of indignation and a call to action in light of the perceived corruption in the purchase of much-needed health items for the pandemic response. Read the entire statement below (updated as of October 12, 2021 to reflect additional signatories).
This Monday, October 11, the signatories to this statement will hold a press conference to explain their position. I will be tuning in to that.
The sleeping giant is fully awake now. With the medical profession and health sector now united and speaking with one loud and clear voice, I truly hope this administration will finally realize that, just like all other countries that have shown much better results than ours, this pandemic should be led by science and medicine. Everything else, including the economy will follow.
You can only have a healthy economy if you have a healthy nation.
Photo image by fernando zhiminaicela