Pandemic bumps health care as a top agenda for 2022 elections

The laggard pandemic response in the Philippines should bump health care as a top agenda for the 2022 elections and a barometer for who we elect as leaders, opposition coalition 1Sambayan propounded on Saturday, May 8.

1Sambayan, a coalition led by retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, is looking for alternative candidates that they can support to oppose the bets of President Rodrigo Duterte.

"The problem is that people [will be] running for offices and getting elected without the necessary knowledge about health care," said former UP Diliman chancellor Michael Tan, reading one of the comments as moderator of 1Sambayan's forum on Saturday focusing on health care.

Former health secretary Esperanza Cabral said that with the Duterte government's wanting performance in all aspects of the pandemic response, the only chance for Filipinos to get past the crisis is herd immunity.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III's conservative estimate is that the Philippines may achieve herd immunity by March 2022.

Cabral said to achieve that target, the government must exponentially increase vaccination rates to as much as 500,000 people per day.

"Hari nawa ay mangyari ito dahil kung hindi, aabot pa sa 2022 at sa 2023 at baka 2024 bago tayo mabakunahan ng tama to reach herd immunity. By that time, ibang pandemya na siguro ang ating haharapin," Cabral said in the forum.

(God willing, this will happen because if not, we will reach 2022, 2023, or even 2024 before we are vaccinated properly and reach herd immunity. By that time, we might be facing another pandemic altogether.)

"Kailangan sana natin ng mas mahusay na liderato na magbibigay sa atin ng klarong direksyon kung ano ang dapat nating gawin," said Cabral.

(We need better leadership to give us a clearer direction on what we need to do.)

Improving health care

Former health secretary Manuel Dayrit said a good election agenda would be how to improve the public healthcare system.

The experts noted in the forum how public hospitals were burdened to profit, contributing to the problem of inadequate services. This problem spilled over to the private sector during the new surge of the pandemic this year, with COVID-19 patients waiting days for admission.

Dayrit said the public healthcare system should be fully funded by the state, and integrated into rural health care units, instead of the present situation where government healthcare units end up competing with each other.

"If we can do that in the next term, I think that's a big advance because we don't have it. And that primary system is your first defense against any pandemic," said Dayrit in a mix of Filipino ang English.

Filipino Nurses United president Maristela Abenojar said a top election agenda should also be how to better compensate healthcare workers.

The Supreme Court in 2019 decided a longtime case in favor of public nurses, raising their entry level salary to that of salary grade 15 equivalent to P32,000 a month.

Abenojar said this had not been widely implemented yet, more than a year later.

"Hindi pa po malawakang naipapatupad kahit pa may kautusan ang Supreme Court noong October 2019, hindi pa rin ito nasusunod," said Abenojar.

(It has not been widely implemented yet despite the ruling from the Supreme Court in October 2019, it's not yet being followed.)

Cabral said it's up to the people to choose wisely because "we get the government we deserve."

"Hangga't hindi tayo natututo na maglagay ng tao with integrity, who will put the public interest ahead of themselves, walang mangyayari sa'tin. Maski na sabihin natin na unfair ang ginagawa nila, e wala naman tayong magawa, they do this all with impunity because they can and they want to," said Cabral.

(As long as we still don't know better to put people with integrity, pwho will put the public interest ahead of themselves, nothing will happen to us. Even if we say they're being unfair, we can't do anything, they all do this with impunity because they can and they want to.)

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.