PGH private clinics, labs plan tied to row
By Volt Contreras
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:22:00 03/20/2010
MANILA, Philippines—What began as a boardroom dispute late last year blew wide open early this month when a group of students, faculty members and employees held protest actions in support of a recently replaced director of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), the teaching hospital of the University of the Philippines’ College of Medicine.
And the fever has yet to subside. On Friday, the protesters staged a “concert” at the PGH grounds in Manila, while a Quezon City court began hearing a petition for reinstatement by the ex-director.
UP president Emerlinda Roman has been giving assurances to the public and the donor community that it’s “business as usual” at the state-run PGH despite the simmering dispute.
“To the credit of both sides, I don’t think they would behave in such a way that the services would be hampered,” said Roman, who cochairs the UP board of regents.
‘Sense of disgust’
But beneath the normalcy, “low morale” and “a sense of disgust” may already be spreading among the PGH personnel, according to a professor who sits on the board.
The disputing parties consist of the group that welcomed the Feb. 25 election of Dr. Enrique Domingo, 42, as PGH director by the 11-member board, and the one that is sympathetic to Dr. Jose Gonzales, 62, a heart surgeon who held the post for about seven weeks before the board replaced him with Domingo, an opthalmologist.
‘Dissent common’ in UP
Roman said the UP “can be a place where dissent and disagreement can be very common, but I am hoping that the bones of contention and sources of disagreement are interpreted correctly.”
She said she has not received any complaints or threats to stop or sabotage operations, “and I thank the PGH community for rising above these differences.”
Faculty regent Judy Taguiwalo has linked the power play to the controversy surrounding a board-approved plan that would allow the PGH to host “private” clinics and facilities, a move with major implications for the century-old, 1,500-bed institution that has historically catered to the disadvantaged classes.
“This is a question of accountability and due process, and it’s unfortunate that this is happening in a primary government hospital,” said Taguiwalo who did not take part in the vote that installed Domingo because to her the position was not vacant at the time.
She noted that Gonzales had been openly opposed to “the privatization or the setup of a private laboratory, pharmacy and radiology clinics within the PGH compound.”
Gonzales was elected PGH director on Dec. 18 and went on to take his oath on Jan. 7. A few days later, however, the board nullified the 6-5 vote that awarded Gonzales the post.
The board granted a point raised by regent Abraham Sarmiento and voided the decisive, pro-Gonzales vote cast by student regent Charisse Bañez, whose status came under question because she was not enrolled at UP Los Baños at the time.
In its Jan. 29 meeting, the board voted to formally remove Bañez as student regent. Bañez went to the Quezon City regional trial court to question the board’s decision. The court denied her petition on Feb. 24 for “for lack of legal and factual basis.”
A new election called by the board on Feb. 25 went in favor of Domingo. This second vote had the same three nominees from the first—Gonzales, Domingo and outgoing director Dr. Carmelo Alfiler. Six regents voted for Domingo, none against and three abstained.
On March 1, pro-Gonzales groups formed a “human barricade” to protest his removal. This was followed the next day by a resolution from faculty members in support of Gonzales, who has refused to vacate the director’s office.
‘Incentive’ for docs
Told of Taguiwalo’s comments, Roman said the board did approve in 2005 the renovation of an idle building within the PGH grounds where its own doctors can engage in “private practice without having to leave the premises.”
This is the proposed P77-million Faculty Medical Arts Building (FMAB), where doctors can supposedly “lease the clinics at concessional rates.”
“It’s actually an incentive for our faculty members to do private practice; some of their private patients can be confined at the PGH (which allots 500 beds for noncharity patients),” she explained.
Roman confirmed that the FMAB will also host private laboratories, an X-ray clinic and a pharmacy. She said medicines there would be sold at “higher prices” compared to those sold at the PGH’s own pharmacy “so that private patients need not compete with our charity cases.”
She said the issue of the FMAB did not figure in her vote for Domingo. She said she voted for Alfiler in the first election, and for Domingo in the second.
At a hearing Friday of Gonzales’ petition before Judge Luisito Cortez, the ousted hospital director told the court that the purchase of medicines and supplies at the PGH has been delayed because of the “confusion brought about by [his] ouster.”
Gonzales was called to the witness stand by his lawyer to testify on the urgency of his petition and the “irreparable damage” it would cause the hospital if the dispute is not resolved.
Gonzales is asking the court to stop Domingo from performing the duties of PGH director and to declare him “the rightful” holder of the position.
No to status quo
Cortez asked if the contending parties would be agreeable to a status quo ruling because “maybe by the time the main case is resolved, another director could be already elected.”
Gonzales’ lawyer did not agree, saying the status quo would benefit Domingo who, Gonzales claims, has “[usurped] his office by disbursing the functions of a director.”
The two sides were ordered to each submit by April 12 a memorandum of authority, an undertaking that they agreed with the minutes of what transpired at Friday’s hearing.
Named respondents, aside from Domingo, were board cochair Emmanuel Angeles (the chair of the Commission on Higher Education), Roman and regents Sarmiento, Nelia Gonzales, Francis Chua and Rep. Cynthia Villar (representing the House of Representatives). With reports from Nancy Carvajal and Jeannette Andrade