Wednesday, September 14, 2011

CHWs demand higher health budget to address dengue problem

Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique T. Ona and President Noynoy Aquino are like dengue mosquitoes – they are vectors of anti-poor health policies that make people sick.

Community Health Workers (CHWs) from Parañaque, Pasig, Tondo, Mandaluyong, and Quezon City trooped once again to DOH today to demand for a higher health budget for dengue patients in public hospitals.

Dengue cases continued to increase to 63,741 cases as of September 3 while the number of fatalities reached 373. Metro Manila still ranked first in terms of incidence at 14,081 followed by Central Luzon (11,427), CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) (9,414), Ilocos (8,811), at Cagayan Valley (3,942).

Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique T. Ona and President Noynoy Aquino are like dengue mosquitoes – they are vectors of anti-poor health policies that make people sick.
In Metro Manila, Quezon City recorded the highest number of cases at 4,385 while Caloocan City (1,802), Manila (1,620), Valenzuela (1,029), Pasig (800), and Malabon (706) reported an increasing number of cases as well.

Aside from dengue, patients suffer a “double-whammy” due to out-of-pocket expenses. Even charity ward patients are forced to spend at least P5,000 for complete blood count (CBC), oral rehydration solution (ORS), dextrose solution, needles for dextrose, and lancet or needle for blood extraction. The amount excludes fees for blood transfusion. Each bag of blood amounts to at least P1,500 at the Philippine National Red Cross.

Although DOH and Pnoy boasts its “No Balance Billing” under PhilHealth for the poorest 5.2 million individuals, the problem of expensive hospital fees continue to become a burden for dengue patients. Even with a subsidy of P16,000 per patient afflicted with dengue, out-of-pocket expenditures are still a burden.

Public hospitals are ill-equipped. Many of the necessary medical facilities and equipment are either lacking or have broken down. In-hospital pharmacies are poorly stocked and do not supply the necessary reagents. Hence, “patients’ relatives resort to private laboratory facilities and pharmacies in or outside the hospital,” the CHWs said.

In a recent budget hearing, Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño found out that PhilHealth covers a virtually negligible amount on a patient’s hospital bill. At the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) for example, PhilHealth only accounts for 14% of the total bill of PCMC patients for the year 2010. Majority of the expenses are borne by the patients, with 27% being covered by promissory notes.

The CHWs argued that the number of poor people is far more than 5.2 million. Instead of a “members-only” government health insurance scheme and anti-poor programs such as the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP), services in public hospitals should be made free of charge and public health facilities beefed-up to better serve the public.

As an immediate measure, the CHWs called on the government to release P2 billion special budget for dengue patients in public hospitals and an additional P5 billion for dengue prevention campaign. They vowed to continue their protest actions and encourage hundreds of other CHWs, community members, health professionals, and health workers to march with them to Malacañang on September 29 to demand an increase on health budget.##

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Igiit ang dagdag na budget para sa mga pasyenteng may dengue!

Mula Enero hanggang Setyembre 3 ngayong taon, umaabot na sa 63,741 ang mga kaso ng dengue sa buong bansa habang 373 naman ang naitalang patay bunsod ng nasabing sakit. Pinakamataas ang Metro Manila na may 14,081 na sinundan ng Central Luzon (11,427), CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) (9,414), Ilocos (8,811), at Cagayan Valley (3,942).

Sa Metro Manila, pinakamataas pa rin ang Quezon City na may naitalang 4,385, Caloocan City (1,802), Manila (1,620), Valenzuela (1,029), Pasig (800), at Malabon (706).

Bukod sa pagkakasakit, dobleng dagok ang nararanasan ng mga pasyente sa mga ospital. Obligadong gumastos ng hindi bababa sa P5,000 kada pasyente kahit yaong mga nasa charity ward para sa complete blood count (CBC), oral rehydration solution (ORS), dextrose solution (3-4 bags kada araw), karayom para sa dextrose, at lancet o karayom para sa pagkuha ng dugo. Idagdag pa ang P1,500 kada bag ng dugo na kakailanganing isalin sa pasyente kung kailangan.

Bagaman ibinabandila ng Department of Health (DOH) at Malacañang ang “No Balance Billing” ng PhilHealth bilang “sagot” sa mga gastusin ng 5.2 milyong pinakamahihirap na pasyente, hindi nito totoong natutugunan ang kalunos-lunos na kalagayan sa mga pampublikong ospital. Marami sa mga pampublikong pasilidad ang kulang o walang gamot at reagents sa kanilang botika at kulang o sira ang mga pasilidad sa laboratoryo.

Hindi solusyon ang PhilHealth sa problemang pangkalusugan ng mamamayan dahil sa napakaraming limitasyon nito. Dahil sa kakulangan ng budget ng mga ospital ng gubyerno, kailangan pa ding maglabas ng pera ang mga mahihirap na pasyente dahil napipilitang pumunta sa mga pribadong laboratoryo at botika sa loob o labas ng ospital ang kaanak ng mga pasyente upang maitawid ang pangangailangan ng kanilang mahal sa buhay.

Sa halip na dagdagan ang budget ng mga pampublikong ospital, lalong ibinubukas ng pamahalaang Aquino sa mga dambuhalang negosyante ang serbisyong pangkalusugan ng mamamayan sa pamamagitan ng programa nitong Public Private Partnership (PPP). Lalong mawawalan ng kakayahang makapagpagamot ang mga mahihirap dahil negosyo at hindi serbisyo ang layunin ng mga namumuhunang ito.

Hindi lamang lamok kundi ang kawalang aksyon ng pamahalaan sa problemang pangkalusugan ng mamamayan ang sanhi ng kabi-kabilang outbreak ng dengue. Artipisyal at mistulang “pamasak-butas” ang mga hakbang na isinasagawa ng gubyerno dahil hindi nito nasasapul ang tunay na sanhi ng sakit na ito – mababang budget pangkalusugan.

Para sa mamamayan, dapat tayong magkaisa upang igiit ang ating karapatan sa kalusugan. Sama-sama nating ilantad ang mga mapanlinlang na programa ng gubyernong Aquino gaya ng PPP.

Magkaisa tayo upang igiit:

P2 bilyon special budget para sa mga pasyenteng may dengue!
P5 bilyon budget para sa pag-iwas sa dengue!
PPP o pribatisasyon, hindi solusyon sa problemang pangkalusugan!
PhilHealth, di sagot sa kawalan ng serbisyo!


Muli tayong magsama-sama sa Setyembre 29, 9:00 ng umaga sa harap ng University of Santo Tomas, España, Manila at tayo’y magmamartsa patungong Malacañang upang igiit ang dagdag na badyet sa kalusugan.

AHON-Isla (Samahan ng mga Naninirahan sa Isla Puting Bato)• Community Health Workers ng Pasig • Community Health Workers ng Alyansa ng mga Nakatira sa Tabing Ilog – Damayang Lagi •Kilos Bayan Para sa Kalusugan • Parañaque Wide Community Health Workers’ Association

Friday, August 26, 2011

Community Health Workers ng Quezon City, nanawagan ng dagdag na pondo para sa mga pasyente ng dengue

Ang tinaguriang pinakamayamang lungsod sa bansa ang siya ngayong may pinakamataas na bilang ng mga apektado ng dengue.

Ito ang hinaing ng mga Community Health Workers (CHWs) ng Quezon City sa mga lokal na opisyal ng lungsod. Naglunsad ng isang maikling programa sa harap ng Quezon City Hall ang grupo upang manawagan ng mas seryoso at mapagpasyang hakbang ng lokal na pamahalaan ng Quezon City sa dengue.

Ayon kay Mel Yandog, tagapagsalita ng CHWs dito, kulang at di-kagyat ang mga tugon ng pamahalaan sa dengue. Paliwanag pa niya, ang taun-taong paglobo ng bilang ng mga apektado ay nagpapakita lamang ng kakulangan sa mga programa upang maiwasan ang nakamamatay na sakit .

Sa ngayon, may 3,948 na kaso mula Enero hanggang Agosto 20 ngayong taon kumpara sa 1,264 noong 2010. Mas mataas ng 2,684 o 212%. Ang mga idineklarang “dengue hotspots” sa lungsod ay ang mga barangay ng Bagbag, San Bartolome, Commonwealth, Batasan Hills, at Holy Spirit.

Aniya, kapansin-pansin na kalakhan ng populasyon ng mga lugar na ito ay pawang maralita o mga pinakamahihirap sa lungsod. Ang sakit na dengue ay karaniwang matatagpuan sa mga napabayaan at kinalimutang bahagi ng mga lungsod at probinsiya. Kalakhan ng biktima nito ay mga mahihirap at salat sa nutrisyon, dagdag niya.

“Kahit sa mga pampublikong ospital, obligado pa ring gumastos ng hindi bababa sa P5,000 ang isang pasyente,” paliwanag niya. Nanawagan ang grupo na maglabas ang pamahalaan ng di bababa sa P5,000 bawat pasyenteng may sakit na dengue upang tugunan ang pang-medikal na pangangailangan sa ospital.

Sa kabuuan, nangangailangan ng P2 bilyon bilang ispesyal na budget sa mga may sakit ng dengue at dagdag na P5 bilyon upang gamitin sa kampanya upang iwasan ang sakit na ito.

Nanawagan si Yandog sa lokal na pamahalaan ng Quezon City na bigyan ng espesyal na pondo ang mga pampublikong ospital upang matugunan ang mga pangangailangan ng mga pasyenteng may dengue. Dapat din na bigyang diin ng pamahalaan at paglaanan ng sapat na pondo ang mga programang pangkalusugan upang maiwasan ang dengue at mga kahalintulad na sakit.

Bukod sa dengue, banta sa kabuhayan at kalusugan ng mamamayan dito ang nakaambang demolisyon partikular sa mga kabahayan sa Damayang Lagi, E. Rodriguez, Quezon City. Ayon sa isang CHW dapat “atupagin ng pamahalaan ang pagbibigay ng libreng serbisyong pangkalusugan sa mga biktima ng dengue at hindi ang demolisyon sa mga abang maralita ng lungsod.”##

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Health group threatened anew

www.nordis.net

BAGUIO CITY — A day before the PNoy’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), a staff of the Community Health Education, Service and Training in the Cordillera Region (CHESTCORE) received a threat on her mobile number again.

At about noon on July 24, Sunday, Milagros Ao-wat received threats from cell number 09093118024 indicating close surveillance on her whereabouts and activities.

“Ingat kau, labas kau ng labas kasla kayo met gamin sigsiguro. Apay dayta trabaho yo mano ti bayad no matay kayo. Parangal laeng met.. ay ay ay. Narigat ti mabrainwash ta haan nga makita ti usto,” (Take care, you are always going out, you are very daring. Why? How much will you get from your work when you die? Only a tribute … ay ay ay. It is hard to be brainwashed because you cannot see what is right) one text message read.

This was followed by another saying, “Sinowak? Haan masapul ti nagan ko. Ammoyo met nu cno dagiti agininteresado kadakayo. Kuna yo nga iharharas mi dakayo,” (Who am I? You don’t need to know my name. You know very well who are after you. You said that we are harassing you).

“Threats continue. Nothing has changed despite Pnoy’s promise of a ‘matuwid na daan’! ,” Romella Liquigan-Rasalan, the Executive Director of CHESTCORE said. The group she said strongly condemns the continuing assault on their staff and their institution inspite of their continuing resolve to render health services.

In earlier reports, Ao-wat, a CHESTCORE staff member revealed to have received several death threats last December, 2010 and January, 2011 on her phone.

“The threats have not stopped. This is appalling because what we do is provide much-needed health services and yet, this is what we get,” Ao-wat said.

“We have already reported this to the Commission on Human Rights. They have yet to bring out their report on the past cases and now, there are new threats,” Rasalan added.

March this year, CHESTCORE launched a campaign to stop the harassment of Cordillera health workers as it exposed continuing threats that happened on staff and volunteers when in Baguio and during field work since 2007.

The campaign aimed not only to expose the threats but to help assert people’s right to health. CHESTCORE, a non-government health institution founded in 1981, has been serving far-flung Northern Luzon communities which are not reached by government health services or where these are insufficient. Unfortunately, instead of being commended for their work, CHESTCORE has been accused of being New People’s Army (NPA) supporters or their staff accused as being NPAs themselves.

“This is not really surprising even if people pinned much hope for change under this administration,” Jude Baggo, the secretary-general of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) said. PNoy he added has launched his Oplan Bayanihan last December 2010, an anti-insurgency program that includes among its features the vilification or the tagging of progressive organizations as underground organizations.

“This has replaced then president Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya that accounted for the more than 1000 extra-judicial killings among militant groups” he added.

“But this has to stop!,” he stressed. Thus, he said they highlighted CHESTCORE’s case in their Assembly last July 28 & 29 in Ifugao especially in the launching of their anti-vilification campaign.

CHESTCORE and CHRA vowed to put in greater efforts in this campaign to gain broader support in these cases and to stop continuing human rights violations in the region. #

Sunday, May 8, 2011

R.A. 100069 declares May 7 as Health Worker's Day

Pictures of the Health Worker's Day Protest

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

CBHP national secretariat expresses support for CHESTCORE, scores gov’t for tolerating impunity in the country

Council for Health and Development (CHD) today expresses firm solidarity with CHESTCORE (Community Health, Education, Services and Trainings in the Cordillera Region), a fellow community-based health program based in Baguio City on the spate of continuous threats and harassments on its staff.

Dr. Eleanor A. Jara, CHD executive director said that their group is outraged by the lack of decisive action of the Aquino government regarding the safety and well-being of Community Health Workers (CHW). “For decades, CHWs risked life and limb to serve communities deprived of public health service,” she said.

Jara added that CHWs give health skills and services such as trainings, first aid, and traditional medicine without expecting anything in return. “Our community-based health programs continue to enjoy massive support from the vulnerable communities that we serve – that is how we thrived and endured countless challenges in our programs’ 38 years of existence,” Jara explained.

The doctor is concerned about how the government tolerates the culture of impunity in the country.

By not doing anything to protect those who protect the marginalized from diseases, the government in effect “encourages perpetrators of human rights violations to continue to prey on CHWs and other health workers” such as in the cases of CHESTCORE staff Milagros Ao-wat, Germelina Cynthia Dacanay and Rosalinda Suyam.

Cases of human rights violations reached its peak during former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term. Various people’s health organizations in the country held Arroyo accountable for the illegal detention and torture of several CHWs and health professionals like the ‘Morong 43’.

CHD is challenging the current administration to order the investigation of human rights violations and reported harassments to CHWs in the Cordillera and other regions.

“Mr. Aquino’s sincerity to protect human rights and ensure people’s access to health remains to be seen. We hope to see the day when no CHW or health professional will never have to think twice in serving far-flung communities just because they fear for their lives and safety,” Jara concluded.

Reference:
Dr. Eleanor A. Jara
0917-9789297 / (+632) 929-8109

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Morong 43 plaintiffs unfazed by Arroyo and military reaction to civil case

“Whatever it takes, we are determined to make those torturers pay for their crimes.”

With sheer determination in their faces, six of the Morong 43 who filed a civil suit against Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, et. al said that the cases they filed last April 4 is their contribution to end the culture of impunity in the country.

“My colleagues and I are utterly unfazed by what Col. Baladad and Col. Parlade are rattling in the media. They should do better than to recycle old arguments that we are members of the NPA. Our message is clear and strong, human rights violators must be made accountable for their crimes,” Gary Liberal, R.N., one of the plaintiffs said.

Liberal added that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the top military officials named in their complaint are delusional for thinking they can get away with their crimes. “We enjoin all victims of human rights violations under the Arroyo administration to file a case and pursue justice.”

He ended that Macapagal-Arroyo and her cohorts should brace themselves for more lawsuits from their victims. “This is our contribution to end impunity in this country,” Liberal said.##

Reference:
Carlos Montemayor, RN

0922 499 6237 / (+632) 929 8109

CHD participates in a medical and dental mission that served more than 300 patients

On March 26, 2011, a Medical Mission was held on NIA Road, Quezon City. Over 321 patients were catered and attended to by physicians from different hospitals and organizations. The event was organized by Bayan Muna – NIA Road chapter.

The community in NIA Road is an Urban Poor resettlement area for the fire victims in BIR road Brgy Central, Quezon City last February 7, 2011. The fire burned over 500 households and the affected population reached up to 2,000. Aside from fire, the residents in the area also fear an impending demolition to pave the way for the Quezon City Business District (QCBD). The local government of Quezon City plans to clear the area and convert it to a commercial district, a resident said.

Despite being at the heart of a bustling city and its proximity to major government hospitals, the basic health needs of the people are not met. Many still require medical attention and dental check-ups.

Five pediatricians, 1 surgeon, 1 ER medicine doctor, 3 internists, 3 pathologists, and 1 family doctor coming from East Avenue Medical Center, Philippine General Hospital, Philippine Heart Center, Philippine Children's Medical Center, and the Council for Health and Development attended to the needs of 257 patients.

Four dentists, two from Philippine General Hospital and and two from University of the East (UE) Graduate School were able to provide services to 64 patients. Some of the patients, whose teeth can still be saved through root canal therapy, were referred to UE Graduate School for free treatment.

Bayan Muna partylist representative, Teddy Casiño was also present in the event.

Poverty and Health care

According to Bayan Muna – NIA Road coordinator Eric Castillo, Medical Missions such as the one they organized is evidence of the government’s neglect upon its people. They said that if the government is able to fulfill its duties to its people, there would be no need for medical missions because the people already has access to affordable and quality health care.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in a recent statement said that high cost of health care is a major factor which drives Filipino families into poverty. One of the solutions which they offer to governments is proper funding for the health care services of the people. This would help decrease the burden of the people through out-of-pocket health expenditures. However, at this rate, it would seem that the government will fail once again to fund health expenditures as it prioritizes debt servicing and military spending.

In line with this, People’s Organizations and Non-government Organizations strive to reach a common goal, which is to provide free health care to the people of rural and urban communities such as in NIA Road. Active participation of the community as well as volunteers from various schools, organizations and the health sector is also essential in the actualization of this goal.
##Alren Aure, RN

Thursday, April 7, 2011

CHESTCORE supports Morong 43’s Filing of Civil Case against GMA for Illegal Arrest

Reacting to the filing of civil cases against then Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) by former detainees and members of the Morong 43, CHESTCORE expressed full support to their fellow health workers for pursuing their fight for justice to its end by making the Commander-in-Chief at that time of their illegal arrest and detention, accountable, even if they are now released.

CHESTCORE Executive Director Mia Liquigan-Rasalan said that with the many human rights violations committed under the GMA administration, she (GMA) must not get away with it even as she now hides under the cloak of Congress as Pampanga’s 2nd District congresswoman.  Liquigan-Rasalan made this statement, as she recalls that the cases CHESTCORE filed with the Commission on Human Rights and the Joint Peace Panel of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in the ongoing Peace Talks, were committed since 2007, clearly a period under GMA.

CHESTCORE, a private organization promoting community-based approaches and strategies in health care in Northern Luzon since 1981, came out last March 17 in a press conference, exposing surveillance, intimidation and harassment reaching death threats by state forces on their office, their fieldwork and individual staff in recent months.

Among the staff, there is fear that their plight can similarly end up like those of their fellow health workers in Morong 43.  Worse, some of them who have received death threats may also end up like Leonard Co, a fellow CHESTCORE staff back in the 80’s who was shot in Leyte in what government troops claim to be a crossfire . “But we can draw strength when fellow victims pursue their fight”, said Rayne Suyam, one CHESTCORE staff   who has been in communities where the harassment happened, in talking about the Morong 43 filed case.

As they pursue their campaign calling for a stop to the harassment of community health workers, CHESTCORE said this is their contribution in the assertion of people’s right to health as well as in bringing GMA to justice for the many grave human rights violations marked by a record-high number of extra-judicial killings committed under her term.

  They also challenged Pres. Aquino, to ensure that the wheels of justice will be quick and fair for Morong 43 and that he withdraw Oplan Bayanihan, a more deceptive anti-government program that replaced the dreaded Oplan Bantay Laya of the Pres. Arroyo.

CHESTCORE, together with the UP Student Council and the UP Kasarian Gender Studies Center, will be holding a forum entitled “Stop the Harassment of Cordillera Health Workers!”  as part of the continuing campaign.  This forum, which will feature testimonies of community health workers from CHESTCORE, from the communities and from Morong 43, will be on April 14, 2011, 8:30 – 12:00 noon at the College of Social Science Audio Visual Room (CSS AVR) of the University of the Philippines Baguio.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Morong 43 file formal charges against GMA and military officials behind their arrest

Taking their struggle to the next level, former detainees and members of the so called Morong 43 trooped to the Quezon City Hall of Justice today to formally file a civil case against top ranking government and military officials believed to be behind the gross injustices they were made to suffer in the 10 months that they were unlawfully detained.

The plaintiffs are suing for damages totaling P15 million for physical and psychological torture and other forms of indignities they suffered during their illegal arrest and detention. Defendants named in the suit are former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, former Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Ibrado, Gen. Delfin N. Bangit, former commander of the 2nd Infantry Division (ID) Gen. Jorge Segovia, commander of the intelligence unit of the 2nd IDPA Lt. Col. Cristobal Zaragosa, 2nd IDPA Warden Major Manuel Tabion, commander of the 202nd Infantry Batallion (IB) Col. Aurelio Baladad, 16th IBPA commander Lt. Col. Jaime Abawag, and Rizal Provincial Police Office commander P/Supt. Marion Balolong.

The case was filed by six of the Morong 43 health workers namely, Dr. Merry Mia-Clamor, Dr. Alexis Montes, registered nurse Gary Liberal, registered midwife Ma. Teresa Quinawayan, Reynaldo Macabenta, and Mercy Castro.

With the filing of the suit, the health workers said that they are taking on a new chapter in their quest for justice. “We want to send a strong message that one cannot just get away with human rights violations. This is our contribution to efforts in making sure that human rights violators are made accountable for their actions,” Liberal, one of the plaintiffs, said. Liberal furthered that they are aware of the red-scare tactics the military is once again attempting to employ citing the AFP’s press releases that their troops identified four former Morong 43 detainees in 2 separate clashes between the New People’s Army and AFP soldiers in Luzon. “If there is one thing that the military is very good at, it is recycling terrible arguments such as the Morong 43 being members of the NPA. Their own lies further expose their institution as prime human rights violators. Nobody believes them anymore,” Liberal stressed.

He added that the Filipino people and thousands of citizens from more than 32 countries, many of them prominent in their fields of expertise, serve as their inspiration in the filing of civil case.

Free the 43 Health Workers! Alliance’s Carlos Montemayor added that their group fully support the Morong 43’s quest for justice. He said that their group will never tire of “beating the gongs of human rights issues” even if most of the Morong 43 are now free. Two of them, Rogelio Villarasis and Mario Delos Santos, are still detained at Camp Bagong Diwa because of trumped up charges against them. Their legal counsels are still working for their release.

As the new commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, the alliance challenged the Aquino government to ensure that the military and police will fully cooperate in the court hearings. They also enjoined the public to keep their vigilance to avoid any whitewash.##

Reference:
Carlos Montemayor, R.N.
(+63922) 499-6237 / (+632) 929-8109

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Stop the harassment of all Cordillera Health Workers!

CHESTCORE vehemently denounces the escalating harassment of its staff and volunteers in recent months. We have observed several vehicles and individuals conducting surveillance on our office. Several of our staff have also been followed while going around Baguio City. Last December 2010 and this January 2011, our staff Milagros Ao-wat received several death threats through her cell phone.

CHESTCORE responds to the historically-neglected health situation in the Cordilleras

CHESTCORE (or the Community Health Education, Services and Training in the Cordillera Region) is an NGO that has been working to build community-based health programs since 1981. The present CHESTCORE staff are health professionals coming from various fields – doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, etc. Many of us are members of the various Igorot tribes of the Cordillera Region. Despite the many job opportunities available to us abroad and in the big urban (city) centers, we have chosen to serve the marginalized sectors of Cordillera society. Just as botanist Leonard Co did when he was field staff member of CHESTCORE, we work among the indigenous farmers, laborers, small-scale miners and urban poor.

We endure long bus and jeepney rides and even longer hikes along treacherous mountain trails to reach the far-flung barrios we serve. Instead of working in big hospitals as we have been trained to do in school, we treat patients armed only with our stethoscope, BP set, meager medical supplies and our acupuncture needles and medicinal plants. Instead of conducting lectures in formal classrooms in big universities, we train peasant men and women (most of who have not finished elementary) in small barangay halls, churches and nipa huts so that they too can render service as community health workers. We have long foregone the big salary, modern luxuries and fashionable white coat that the health professions are known for. We are content to receive a living allowance equivalent to the salary of a government midwife or even less.

Our greatest reward has always been seeing the transformation of barely-literate farmers used to silently enduring poverty and exploitation into empowered leaders and members of their peoples’ organizations and Health Committees. We bear witness that it IS possible to place “health in the hands of the people” through community-based health programs.

Latest forms of harassment and Oplan Bayanihan

These latest forms of harassment we have suffered are but the tip of the iceberg. While on fieldwork, CHESTCORE staff have been subjected to various forms of harassment by state security forces (Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit and other paramilitary forces) – questioning our motives for working in far-flung barrios, implying that we have ties or are members of the New People’s Army (NPA), implying that we are teaching the health workers how to care for the gunshot wounds of the NPA.

Worse, as part of their military combat operations, they have insisted on being present during some of our barrio trainings, sitting in on some of the lectures and even commenting on the discussion while the lectures are going on. When the military are around, some of the community health workers are afraid of attending our trainings, and those who do attend are intimidated and cannot participate freely during the discussions. This is a clear violation of the community’s right to safety and security. It is a clear violation of the community’s right to go about their activities without fear or disruption. It is also a violation of our staff’s right to safety and security while doing their jobs.

With the implementation of the AFP’s Oplan Bantay Laya, many community workers like us became victims of extrajudicial killings (EJKs). In most cases, the victims of EJKs were first labeled as Communists and/or NPA sympathizers and then subjected to intensifying surveillance and finally, direct threats. Even as the AFP recently announced in its new Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan that they will adhere to Human Rights/ International Humanitarian Law and the Rule of Law, we fear that there are no guarantees that this pattern of red labeling, surveillance, harassment and EJKs will stop.

We assert the people’s right to health

Igorot communities have suffered centuries of marginalization and discrimination. Even today they continue to suffer the highest poverty and malnutrition rates in the entire country. The Philippine government’s meager budget for health fails to deliver even such basic health services as immunization and antituberculosis medications to their far-flung barrios. Now the people’s health and livelihood are endangered further by the encroachment of large-scale mining operations and commercialized agricultural production.

It is unjust that we who volunteer to assist these communities are falsely accused, harassed and endangered. It is unjust that communities who organize and mobilize themselves for self-help are also harassed and endangered. It is even more unjust that, as a result of all these, the people’s health situation deteriorates further.

It is therefore our duty to expose and denounce the human rights violations we health workers and the Cordillera peoples have been subjected to. We do so in behalf of the communities we serve. We do so to assert the people’s right to health.

We stand with our fellow health workers as we appeal for your support

We stand with the many doctor-consultants and specialists who generously treat patients referred to them by the community health workers. We speak out, as well, in behalf of our network of student volunteers who accompany us on fieldwork during their semestral or summer breaks. More importantly, we speak out in behalf of the hundreds of community health workers CHESTCORE has trained and who courageously continue to render health services in their respective barrios.

We also stand with our fellow volunteer health workers all over the Philippines who do the same work and suffer the same harassment. We speak out in solidarity with the Morong 43 and Dr. Chandu Claver. We condemn the killing of Leonard Co and of Dr. Bobby de la Paz.

We are coming out in public to ask you – our families, friends, allies, support network and the general public -- to stand with us as well, to speak out vehemently against the harassment of Cordillera health workers.

ASSERT THE PEOPLE’S RIGHT TO HEALTH! ASSERT OUR HUMAN RIGHTS!
STOP THE HARASSMENT OF ALL CORDILLERA HEALTH WORKERS!
STOP THE HARASSMENT OF ALL CORDILLERA DEVELOPMENT WORKERS!
STOP THE MILITARIZATION OF CORDILLERA COMMUNITIES!
EXPOSE AND OPPOSE OPLAN BAYANIHAN!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Road to recovery: The Morong 43 outside detention

by Mila Polinar
This article was first published in print in issue 23 of the Philippine Collegian on 24 January 2011.)

The Morong 43, however, were not criminals but were merely victims of flawed military operations. Upon their capture, the Morong 43 were deprived of sleep for 36 hours. They were interrogated continuously and were coerced to admit that they were members of the armed group waging agrarian struggle in the countryside, the New People’s Army (NPA).

Reynaldo “Rey” Macabenta, another member of the Morong 43 and an administrative staff at CHD, remembers hearing screams, gunshots, and other threats of violence. “Parang katayan ng tao,” he describes.

Grabe ang psychological torture,” says Tere, adding that she copes from the traumatic experience by continually talking about it and making herself busy. Meanwhile, Rey, dubbed as the Mr. Kutingting of the CHD had alluded himself to fixing broken equipment in their office.

After the incident, Tere and Rey returned to the CHD come January and resumed their jobs. “Nagiikot-ikot na kami at nagstart na rin sa health training. Noong nakaraan, nakapagbigay na ulit ako ng vital signs, kumuha ng blood pressure [at] temperature,” narrates Tere.

Despite what we have gone through, we are resolute in our commitment to serve the poor and lay the foundations of a people-managed health care system,” says Dr. Merry Clamor of CHD’s Health Education, Training and Services Department.

Moving on

On January 24, four members of the Morong 43, including Tere, Rey and Dr. Merry held a medical mission at Lupang Pangako, Urban, Payatas B. They were joined by another member of Morong 43 Delia Ocasla, a volunteer community health worker from Barangay Fairview, Quezon City.

With their return to the communities, Tere shares that her parents fear that she might once again be harassed by the military. “[Ngunit], kung magpapadala kami sa takot, sino yung kawawa, sino yung lugi? Ang magiging lugi doon, yung mga komunidad na sineserbisyohan namin,” reasons Tere.

In her years as a community health worker, the February 6 incident was not the first time she was harassed by soldiers. For instance, soldiers interrupted a health seminar she and co-workers conducted in Dumallan, Pagadian about two years ago, and even took pictures of her and her fellow workers. We were being watched for any activities which may link us with the NPA, says Tere.

Even then, it was through such experiences in far-flung communities that Tere had seen the true state of the health sector in the Philippines. “May mga health center na may sira-sirang bubong, gawa lang sa dikit-dikit na kawayan at walang mga gamit. Hindi napupuntahan ng mga nurse o midwife,” shares Tere.

Beyond freedom

Even as the members of the Morong 43 have now returned to the communities, their issue, it seems, does not stop with their freedom but with the pursuit of justice. The Morong 43 have already filed a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) regarding the torture and military harassment they experienced. The CHR is yet to release the results of the complaint.

We are also calling for the freedom of the Morong 43 members who are still detained, says Rey. As of now, three members of the Morong 43 are still in Camp Bagong Diwa while five are still held by the military in Camp Capinpin. The five allegedly confessed that they were in fact members of the NPA.

Even as members of the 43 claimed to be health workers, the military has continually referred to them as members of the NPA in their website and in various news reports. Meanwhile, the three who are still held in Camp Bagong Diwa are charged with petty crimes such as violating the anti-bouncing check law, among others.

With their experiences in detention, the Morong 43 have come to know the plight of other political prisoners. As such, when the female members of the Morong 43 marched out of Camp Bagong Diwa, they held their fists in the air and together, shouted “Palayain, bilanggong pulitikal.”

May usaping politikal din sa pagkakadakip sa amin,” says Tere. Rey shares that beyond their freedom, they are also pushing that other political prisoners be freed as well. Indeed, the illegal arrest of the Morong 43 is an assault to the community health workers who only opted to address government negligence in the health sector.

For 2011, the Department of Health was granted a budget of P31.8 billion. While the health budget indeed rose from last year’s P25.65 billion, the 2011 allocation still falls short of the P38.6 billion budget proposed by DOH for this year.

Napakahalaga ng serbisyong pangkalusugan. [Kung hindi ito mabibigay], mas mararaming nagkakasakit, hindi sila makakapagtrabaho, apektado ang pamilya. Sobrang hirap ang mararanasan ng mamamayan,” says Delia.

In far-flung communities where health services are continually deprived, where the right to a better quality of life is neglected, the need for community health workers cannot be denied. It is for this cause that the Morong 43 steadfastly return to the communities, in hopes of healing others and themselves.

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