Marawi rehabilitation

Maranaos say DOH failure to build Marawi hospital a ‘tragedy’

Herbie Gomez
Maranaos say DOH failure to build Marawi hospital a ‘tragedy’

Members of Sandugo and Moro-Christian People's Alliance picket the office of National Housing Authority in Quezon City on Monday, May 24, 2021, to call on Task Force Bangon Marawi chairman Eduardo del Rosario, to allow evacuees displaced by the 2017 siege of Marawi City by Islamist militants to return to their homes.

Photo by Angie de SIlva/Rappler

A local leader says the hospital project should have been the logical priority in Marawi given the pandemic and the number of Maranaos still living in temporary shelters four years after the Marawi siege

Omar Macaalin scratched his head as he tried to make sense of the health department’s failure to start building a hospital in Marawi City ahead of multimillion-peso stadium and convention center projects.

His father, a government retiree, and half-siblings lost their homes and fortune in the 2017 Marawi siege.

“Naunsa naman ni? Wala ko kasabot kon gaunsa-on sa gobyerno ang kuwarta (What is wrong with them? I do not understand how the government has been using public funds),” Macaalin said.

The Commission on Audit (COA) has called out the Department of Health (DOH) over its failure to make use of P62 million to lay the groundwork for the planned Marawi City General Hospital, a project that should have started in 2020.

Instead, Maranaos saw the National Housing Authority (NHA) breaking the ground for the P199.9-million Sarimanok Sports Stadium and P180-million Marawi Convention Center projects in Barangay Dansalan in May.

Maranao civil society leaders on Friday, August 20, called the government’s misplaced priorities a “tragedy” for the estimated 60,000 families displaced as a result of the 2017 destruction of Marawi.

“It is disheartening to know that a much-needed project like the Marawi General Hospital did not push through because of inefficiency or lack of interest on the part of DOH,” said Drieza Lininding, leader of the civil society watchdog Moro Consensus Group (MCG).

‘Lack of foresight, wrong priorities’

Lininding said the hospital project should have been the logical priority in Marawi given that the COVID-19 pandemic made life more difficult for thousands of Maranaos still living in temporary shelters four years after bombardments flattened the heart of the predominantly Muslim city.

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He said some 126,000 people left homeless were still staying in temporary shelters in the outskirts of Marawi and in Lanao del Sur.

“The inaction happened in the middle of a pandemic where infrastructure like hospitals are much needed. A hospital for Marawi is far more important than building parks, sports stadiums, or convention centers,” Lininding told Rappler.

Maranao physician Dimapuno Alonto Datu-Ramos Jr. said the DOH lost an opportunity in 2020 to undertake a project that would have greatly helped people displaced by the Marawi siege.

Ramos said: “Instead of the IDPs (internally displaced persons) receiving quality healthcare in a hospital, they are left with nothing. In the middle of this pandemic, I pity these IDPs.”

Ramos said the state auditors’ findings exposed the DOH leadership’s inefficiency.

 “The long-awaited hospital was just another promise that remains unfulfilled because of the DOH leadership’s lack of foresight. Ang priorities maling mali (The priorities are very wrong),” he said.

‘Health is a basic right’

Bakwit Ako chairperson Samira Gutoc, a Maranao civic leader, a national executive board member of Aksyon Demokratiko, said the DOH’s “misappropriation and lack of prioritization were most tragic in that the needed health services in Marawi didn’t get funding.”

“Health is a basic right. This is a slap on the face of a government that doesn’t know where to put its money,” she said.

Gutoc said thousands of Maranaos, living miserably because of their 2017 losses, “watched as millions of pesos in public funds were spent on a dolomite beach and sanitary napkins.” 

She was referring to the nearly P400 million the environment department spent to bring dolomite from Cebu to Manila Bay to create the illusion of a white beach in the city. 

Gutoc also referred to the almost P1 million spent by the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) on sanitary napkins, hygiene kits, and thermal scanners in May 2020. Auditors said the sanitary napkins cost up to P35 apiece.

“This is a tragedy for Marawi,” said Gutoc.

A congressman from neighboring Northern Mindanao, Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez, said the DOH has been slow even in compensating health care workers despite the availability of funds.

The Cagayan de Oro congressman said legislators had to summon Health Secretary Francisco Duque III first before the DOH sped up the release of the health workers’ special risk, and meals and transportation allowances.

“These allowances were long overdue. It’s already August,” Rodriguez said.

He also advised Duque “not to be emotional but squarely face the findings of the COA and answer them with the proper documents.”

Duque had a meltdown during a meeting of the House committee on public accounts as he complained about the COA report on the way the DOH handled P67 billion in pandemic response funds in 2020. 

In the case of Marawi, the hospital project was supposed to start last in 2020, but it didn’t.

State auditors said the DOH already had P62 million for the project that was approved by President Rodrigo Duterte, and then given a special allotment release order (SARO) by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Parts of the COA report read: “No obligation was made pertaining to these funds, thus, the same lapsed and were reverted to the national treasury….”

“We are of the view that the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic must inspire the DOH to do more. Health services play a vital role in saving the lives of Filipinos,” the COA report also said. – Rappler.com

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