Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Dengvaxia blunder: political consideration over sound science

The Aquino administration and the Department of Health maneuvered a P3.5 billion budget for a vaccine that now put 700,000 Filipino children at greater health risk. The decision of the authorities to procure, approve its commercial release, and implement the mass vaccination using Dengvaxia, all in haste,   was based on political consideration and not on sound science.
Gabriela organization member holds a placard in a protest action in front of the Department of Health.

Health groups and local experts have adamantly questioned all these beforehand but have fallen to deaf ears. A year after implementation, clinical trial results revealed that Dengvaxia causes severe dengue fever to those who have not contracted dengue before.

 The Aquino administration, former Health Secretary Janette Garin, DOH, and Sanofi must be held accountable for this deception. DOH must also address the fears that this blunder have unleashed. How should the vaccinated children be protected from now on? What measures will be done to monitor those at risk and provide them with the means of proper healthcare to mitigate the risks?
Protesters, whose children were vaccinated with Dengvaxia, burn an immage of former president Benigno Aquino at the gates of the Department of Health.
The general notion that vaccines are meant to protect a person from infection has been marred with this withheld information on Dengvaxia that there is greater health risk for a segment of the target population. Sanofi now tries to console the public saying that around 80% to 90% of us may have had dengue and we were just not aware! Now it is everybody's guessing game, with thousands of Filipino children systematically put in harm's way.

To the parents and children: Do not panic! Ok lang magalit. Ask for explanations! Monitor the health advisories, and consult accordingly. Exercise your right to information and healthcare. Immunizations generally remain to be an important tool for prevention. Service and patient safety must guide the discovery and eventual use of new vaccines, not politics and profit motives. The Aquino administration, former health secretary Garin, and the institutions involved must be held accountable.##

Monday, December 4, 2017

Nothing revolutionary in Duterte's RevGov

Picture this: President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, together with former presidents Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (and her cronies and generals), Joseph Ejercito Estrada (with his own set of cronies), Imelda and Bongbong Marcos, and Aquino-allied oligarchs and cronies. This is Duterte's "Revolutionary Government," and at one glance, there's nothing revolutionary about it.

There is nothing revolutionary in a government who cradles people who have been rejected by the masses. Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was under hospital arrest for rigging the elections and corruption charges, but now miraculously healed after Duterte released her. Erap was impeached due to plunder and perjury; his son Jinggoy now also walks free from the same charges as his father. The Marcoses whose corrupt dictatorship was toppled by the people are now vying for top positions of power.

A protester holds a placard during the November 30, Bonifacio day protest against Duterte's fascism and RevGov along Recto avenue.

There is nothing revolutionary in a government that chose war and conflict, throwing away peaceful and substantial solutions for genuine change, and that which will address the roots of armed conflict. Duterte cancelled the peace talks after meeting with United States president Donald Trump. Common drafts for agrarian reform and national industrialization are ready for signing by the peace panels of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front. Duterte tossed these aside and declared war against the revolutionary armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People's Army.

There's nothing revolutionary in a government that attacks and kills the people it vowed to serve, while failing to deliver promises. Attacks on human rights groups have increased after Duterte declared a "crackdown" on activists and organizations pushing for legitimate demands and changes. The president also plans to re-instill Oplan Tokhang even after the same campaign led to 13,000 people killed in just a year. Duterte's fascism only paves the way for his dictatorship.

There's nothing revolutionary in a government who favors capitalist and imperialist interests over developing our own local industries. With economic policies leaning towards loosening trade restrictions and increasing foreign ownership, plunder of our resources is imminent. Farmers will have lesser lands to till, while wages will remain low under dire working conditions to maintain the steady flow of income for these foreign investors. Duterte advocates increasing foreign investment and ownership, literally selling out the Philippines, a far-cry from his "independent foreign policy."

A true revolutionary government is one that is supported by the masses, of farmers and workers, by people who believe that change is not in the hands of a single person, but on the collective action of the masses.

The fascist US-Duterte regime is a fool to think that it can silence the woke masses through attacks and killings. It is a greater fool to think that a fascist dictatorship shall flourish while poverty and the roots of armed conflict are never addressed. The people's resistance against fascism will only strengthen under repression. With this, Health Alliance for Democracy stands with the Filipino people together with various organizations from a multitude of sectors in rejecting Duterte's fascist rule. No to fascism. No to imperialism. Never again to dictatorship!##

Duterte, a war monster – Health group

Almost immediately after President Duterte's official cancellation of the peace talks, his military has announced intensified and focused military operations against the New People's Army. The Armed Forces of the Philippines aggression will make deaths, human rights violations, displacements and illnesses of civilians a certainty that will burst whatever Christmas spirit people hold on to in this crisis-laden year. 

An effigy of President Duterte with US President Trump on his back at the November 30, Bonifacio day protest against Duterte's fascism and RevGov.

Duterte officially canceled the peace talks on November 24, despite the supposed talks in Norway set at November 25 to 27. Common drafts on agrarian reform and national industrialization are already up for signing: these could have addressed the roots of armed conflict and lead to a just and lasting peace.

Duterte has also declared war against what he called "terrorists," ordering a crackdown on "reds" and "leftist fronts." These labels however can be applied to anyone, much like the "drug addict" label of his war on drugs, which had left 13,000 people killed in a year. Similarly, former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's counter-terror policies implemented then by General Hermogenes Esperon (now a cabinet member of Duterte) left a bloody record of tortured, missing, and dead activists and human rights defenders (120 extra-judicial killings a year). Duterte is set to beef up his disastrous human rights record.

Fascism worsens by the minute under the US-Duterte regime. In the face of a fascist dictatorship, the people have no other choice but to resist (a healthy choice in an ailing system). Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) is an organization composed of health professionals, health workers, health science students, and health advocates in the Philippines and abroad.##

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Police outdid themselves: Injured 123 on anti-Trump protest

Police forces injured hundreds in a violent attempt to disperse anti-Trump protesters along Taft Avenue, November 13. The first-aid team pegged the total number of assisted injured protesters at 123. On the previous day, around 20 protesters have been injured in a similar brutal dispersal. Injuries included head contusions, open head wounds, possible fractures, and bruises.

A severe case of a 24-year-old woman has been documented. She took a water cannon blast directly on her left ear, added with four head contusions as policemen hit her with their truncheons multiple times. She lost balance and started vomiting. She was taken to the Philippine General Hospital for further treatment after she was given first-aid.

The series of violent dispersals clearly show the fascist nature of the Duterte administration. Aside from the usual water cannons and violence, reports say that the police used a sonic weapon called LRAD. Attack on protesters intensified as President Duterte met with US President Donald Trump.
The Duterte administration's economic policies show dependence to the United States, China, and Russia on unequal terms, whereas political actions now show subservience to the whims of these countries. This dependence and subservience is characterized by years of US military encroachment, economic liberalization, plunder of natural resources, cheaper labor, and privatization of social services such as health.

Filipinos therefore mourn the death of Duterte's independent foreign policy, while these imperialist countries feast on its corpse. On simpler terms, he has sold the interests of the masses, along with his promises and the people's aspirations, to foreign imperialist interests.

The US-Duterte regime must be held accountable for its crimes against the people. Health Alliance for Democracy stands with other sectors of society in showing fury against this fascist government. No to fascism! No to imperialism! No to fascist war against the Filipino people!##

Monday, November 13, 2017

Health groups say: Ban Trump!

Manila – Health groups under Health Alliance for Democracy joined thousands of Filipinos in the call to #BanTrump as they marched to the Philippine International Convention Center, the venue for ASEAN Summit 2017, November 13.

As the new CEO of capitalist interests, Trump's tour ensures US dominance in the Asia-Pacific region by pushing for economic policies if not by military might. These policies which include the privatization of health care and other basic social services have been detrimental to Filipinos.

The quagmire of overproduction and growing debt among US, China, Russia, and other big imperialists necessitates their expansion in Asia; the ASEAN Summit is the perfect venue to pull the Philippines into it. Despite the aggrandized commercials through dominant media channels, 50 years of ASEAN failed to deliver. "Inclusive growth" has been elusive since its conception, a sugar coat on top of bitter years.

Also included in the ASEAN Summit agenda is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP, a free trade agreement with China's interests at its core. Its contents are shrouded in secrecy (just like the US-led TransPacific Partnership) and hidden from public scrutiny, as top businessmen and world leaders talk about the future of the Asia-Pacific region, in other words, controlling the market for their profit.

HEAD therefore remains steadfast in its commitment to resist policies and foreign interventions aiming to push our people deeper into poverty and illness and worse, make profit out of our ill health. No to privatization! No to unfair economic policies! No to RCEP! Ban Trump!##

Police hit protesters in anti-Trump rally

MANILA – Around 20 protesters suffered injuries in an anti-Trump rally on the same day the US president arrived in the country, according to health group Health Alliance for Democracy.

Police fired water cannons and hit protesters with truncheons and shields, who sustained deep lacerations, abrasions, and blunt trauma. Five were brought to the hospital with three sustaining head injuries.

Photo by Kathy Yamzon
"We condemn this latest act of police brutality," said HEAD secretary-general Dr. Joseph Carabeo. "Every Filipino has the right to oppose the peddling of their country to salivating foreign interests."

Protesters composed of farmers, workers, urban poor, and indigenous people marched towards the US embassy in a wave of protests as US President Trump is set to talk with President Duterte during the ASEAN Summit meetings.

Their agenda will include the strengthening of US military intervention through deployment of more US troops in the Philippines, and further liberalization of the economy to lower wages, plunder resources. and privatize social services for Filipinos.

"We ought to ask: at the end of the day, who are Duterte and his police really protecting and serving?"

"This violent reaction of state forces to groups exposing the government’s subservience to US agenda is evidence that it is not the Filipino," Carabeo ended.##

Monday, October 30, 2017

Recycled incoming DOH Sec should answer for past scams

Recently appointed Department of Health Secretary Francis Duque III should be made accountable for his past shenanigans, health workers under Health Alliance for Democracy said Monday.

HEAD's spoof version of the PhilHealth ID Card that was distributed by the Arroyo administration during the 2004 presidential elections. Recently appointed DOH secretary Duque was also secretary then.

As PhilHealth president before becoming DOH secretary under Gloria Arroyo, Duque used PhilHealth as a tool for political patronage. First, there were accusations that up to PHP 530 million-worth of OFW-contributed health insurance funds were diverted to PhilHealth. Duque had reassured then President Arroyo that it "will have a significant bearing on the 2004 elections."

PhilHealth cards were then distributed to indigents when Arroyo campaigned for the 2004 presidential elections. The cards bore Arroyo’s picture, which only had a one-year validity.

"Duque’s return to DOH concurs with the reappointment of other Arroyo-era officials and generals. This signals Arroyo's complete restoration into Filipino politics, despite a corruption-laden and repressive presidency," said HEAD secretary-general Dr. Joseph Carabeo.

Meanwhile, Duque's tenure in DOH was marked by a "medical tourism" campaign, which sought to make the country a leisure and wellness hub for government revenue and as a "solution" to the country's brain drain of health professionals. 

"He offered cheap medical services to foreigners, but none to his poor and ailing countrymen," remarked Carabeo. "He had no insight that health professionals were leaving because of low wage and appalling work conditions."

The medical tourism campaign was further used to justify the corporatization of public hospitals such as the National Kidney Transplant Institute and the Lung Center of the Philippines. These hospitals now see higher prices for admission and services.

The return of Duque in DOH signals plague, not change. The epidemic of corruption infects the healthcare system under Duterte's watch. We therefore call on the health sector to intervene and stop this contagion. Through our collective action, we demand for DOH and MalacaƱan to hold Duque accountable for his past crimes and listen to the heed of the health sector for a free, comprehensive, and progressive healthcare.##

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Land monopoly is government's war on rural poor – health group

Press release: October 25, 2017

Farmers in the countryside bear the brunt of hunger and poverty caused by the government's fraudulent land reform program, which sees its 45th year today, according to Health Alliance for Democracy.

"Nine of ten farmers do not own the land they till. Most endure uneven share agreements with landlords, while their crops are bought cheap. Farmworkers suffer from unfair and hostile work conditions on top of low wage. This framework hurls farmers, who compose 75% of our population, towards hunger, poverty, malnutrition, and sickness" said Dr. Joseph Carabeo, HEAD Secretary General.

"The government insists on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program as its cure-it-all, but with its high amortization rates, it only takes away land from farmers instead of distributing it," Carabeo said. "Add this to land-use conversion and it becomes apparent that the government does not intend to distribute land at all. The Duterte administration's policies, a mere copy of the previous administrations, have been failing and will continue to do so."

"And instead of addressing the just and humanitarian needs of farmers, the government resorts to fascism," added Carabeo. Farmers who fight for their right to till experience harassment from state forces or murdered. From July 2016 to September 2017, 91 farmer leaders and activists have been killed.

"The most obvious solution remains elusive: genuine agrarian reform and the free distribution of lands," added Carabeo. "The Philippines' naturally rich soil and ideal climate for agriculture are keys to solving widespread hunger and poverty, and in turn malnutrition. Agriculture as the foundation of enterprises will ensure food sustainability and social services and will bring forth employment, new industries, and infrastructure."

HEAD therefore encourages the Filipino people to support the farmers' struggle for their right to till and free distribution of land. The realization of genuine agrarian reform will help uplift the lives of Filipinos in both short and long terms. We must eject and expose the anti-poor, anti-farmer, and especially the fascist policies of the US-Duterte regime! ##

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Why do health professionals and health workers support the transport strike?

Health professionals and health workers are no strangers to "modernization" of public services. For years, the government has attempted to privatize government hospitals such as the Philippine Orthopedic Center for profit via so-called modernization. But health professionals and health workers, through understanding the implications and effects of such privatization schemes, have stood firm to oppose it. Health Alliance for Democracy opposes the "modernization" scheme of the Duterte administration for these very same reasons.

Photo from MayDay Multimedia at the Transport Strike in Cubao, October 16, 2017.

The "modernization" of public transport is simply privatization. The proposed vehicles from foreign car manufacturers cost more than a million, which the drivers cannot afford. Monopoly control means deregulated fare hikes: higher fares! This echoes the laboratory fees increase in hospitals when privatized. The modernized MRT/LRT payment system was also a similar case.

Private-monopoly interests are at the core of the jeepney phaseout. The privatization of the transport system is no different from what we, health professionals and health workers deal with on a daily basis. The same big companies who are willing to gamble on the privatization of transport are the same entities who scurry for the privatization of hospitals (Ayala, Pangilinan). What makes it enticing for our government officials that they would go so far as to demonize the transport srike? Private-monopoly interests.

Thus we express our support to the No to Jeepney Phaseout campaign. We support Piston in their push for modernization that is not based on private interests but instead rests on the interest of the masses. Most of all, we congratulate the No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition, Piston, the drivers and operators, fellow commuters and the masses for the success of the nationwide transport strike! ##

Friday, September 15, 2017

Duterte has completely given up on independent foreign policy – health group

Health Alliance for Democracy together with progressive organizations today trooped to the US Embassy to protest their continued imperialist intervention in the country, in commemoration of the 1991 Senate vote to reject the extension of a US bases treaty.

“At this point, Duterte has completely rejected the prospect of an independent foreign policy,” said HEAD secretary-general Dr. Joseph Carabeo.

This time last year, progressive groups staged protest actions in support of the president’s then-pronouncements against US political and military intervention. “But now, Duterte has accommodated their troops, instigated fear and Islamophobia against the Moro people, and implemented the US-imperialist agenda in Mindanao and throughout the country through his counterinsurgency program,” continued Carabeo.

Duterte’s pandering to the US imperialist and fascist agenda continues through the House-approved national budget railroaded by his majority coalition.
Carabeo observed that the 2018 budget sees cuts for institutions key for social services and the protection of civil liberties, such as public hospitals, state colleges and universities, and the Commission of Human Rights. Meanwhile, billions of pesos will fund AFP-bred paramilitary groups that have targeted progressives and activists, the president’s inflated personal intelligence fund, and community-surveillance program MASA MASID.

“By this, Duterte is covering all his bases and is laying the groundwork to be no different, if not a fascist worse than his predecessors. And that includes Marcos,” Carabeo said.

It is thus up to the Filipino people to stand against the US-Duterte regime’s impending dictatorship, to continue the struggle for an independent foreign policy and a just society. “HEAD is joining the broad movement against tyranny and will march to Luneta on September 21,” Carabeo ended. ##

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Health group supports Makabayan block split from House majority

PRESS STATEMENT | September 14, 2017

Health workers and professionals under Health Alliance for Democracy today laud the Makabayan lawmakers for fighting for the people’s interest as they separate from the Majority Coalition in the House of Representatives, Thursday.

“The seven party-list representatives have been relentless in their opposition to policies of the Duterte administration espoused in congress by the House Majority, which corporatize and commodify health care,” HEAD secretary-general Dr. Joseph Carabeo said. To the best of their ability, they fought against the 2017 and 2018 budget cuts to public hospitals and preventive health programs, revealed the inflated PhilHealth budget, and stood ground against the anti-poor Universal Health Coverage Bill.

The Makabayan coalition, composed of 7 lawmakers from different partylists, sever ties with
the Duterte-faithful House majority. Photo by Obet de Castro.
“Despite the persistent railroading, Makabayan stood against the majority bloc’s anti-poor and repressive actions such as the death penalty bill, national ID system, tax reform program, defunding of the Commission of Human Rights, and the declaration and extension of Martial Law in Mindanao,” added Carabeo.

Now that Duterte with his cronies in Congress has revealed himself as a true fascist and is laying the groundwork for a dictatorship, the health sector sees right that the Makabayan bloc sever relations with them. “The health sector and the Filipino people will be together with them in opposing the fascist, imperialist and anti-people US-Duterte regime,” Carabeo ended. ##

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Health group cries robbery with planned PhilHealth premium increase

"PhilHealth has already been a scam, and any big increase in contributions would be outright robbery," said Dr. Joseph M. Carabeo, secretary-general of Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD). "This planned contribution increase from P200 to P275 despite its ballooning budget of P57 billion in 2018 should cause an outcry."

"From 2011 to 2017, Philhealth's share in the country's total health expenditure remained low at 11%, while our out-of-pocket expenditure remained high at 50%," Carabeo quipped. This is despite PhilHealth's increase in paid premiums (P1200 to P2400 annually in 2011) and government funding (PhilHealth budget of P3.5 billion in 2011 to P53 billion in 2017).

"A strengthened and more institutionalized PhilHealth, to be renamed as the Philippine Health Security Corporation, is the primary goal of the Universal Health Coverage Bill. The bill is deceptive and should be junked," Carabeo added.

"PhilHealth is run as a corporation, and from healthcare as a right, health is now translated into calculated and ever-limited benefits," added Carabeo. Their preoccupation will be more of the corporation's "survival" with a steady reserve fund for investment, especially funding its top heavy corporate managers and its entire new layer of bureaucracy for the lure of private efficiency.

In the actual setting, government-owned hospitals perennially suffer annual budget cuts and almost always lack basic supplies and medicine. This forces PhilHealth card bearing members to buy at drug stores outside the hospital. The No Balance Billing scheme does not cover pre- and post-hospitalized procedures either. Meanwhile, paying PhilHealth members practically get only discounts (e.g. case rates) and pay the rest of the balance either by themselves or via an additional private health insurance.

The people aspire for a free, comprehensive public healthcare with government taking the primary responsibility. Instead, the government has continually reneged on this and turned to health insurance premiums through so-called risk sharing/solidarity mechanisms.

"Practically, this means instituting more fees for services and a plea for more private participation—privatization! This is robbery in the simplest terms," Carabeo lamented. "We therefore call on the people to resist any increase in the PHilHealth premiums, to demand that instead of hefty government subsidies to PhilHealth, these be diverted to increased budget to government hospital operations and direct public health services," Carabeo ended.##

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Nothing "universal" about proposed universal health coverage bill – HEAD

"It's befuddling why government policy insists on universal health coverage as a financing scheme and pours billions of people's money to PhilHealth, even as the corporation continues to be ineffective in decreasing Filipinos' out-of-pocket spending and covering all their health costs," said Health Alliance for Democracy secretary general Dr. Joseph Carabeo on the recent passing of the bill in congress. "The Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Bill will not universalize access to health care."

Under the proposed UHC bill, PhilHealth will be renamed as the Philippine Health Security Corporation (PHSC) and will be the "national purchaser" of health services. Coupled with the mandatory enrollment of all citizens to PHSC, this will ensure that aside from their taxes, everyone will have shell out more money to pay for their health needs through their P2,400-worth mandated contributions.

From 2011 to 2017, PhilHealth has enjoyed a steady increase in funding, with last year's allocation as its highest ever at P53 billion – more than 15 times its 2011 budget of 3.5 billion. Its share in the national health budget also increased from 10% in 2011 to 35% in 2017. And yet Filipinos still paid for more than half of their total health expenses out of their own pockets in 2014 (56%), according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority. Social insurance paid for only 11%.

The mandatory enrollment will milk profit out of Filipinos with measly wages and unsteady sources of income. In the proposed bill, contributory members will include regular employees and those from the informal sector, such as contractual employees and small-time vendors. Even overseas workers who already have insurance abroad will not be spared from the mandated contribution.

The UHC bill expressly states that only certain benefits included in a "positive-list" will be covered by the PHSC. The PHSC will determine if the benefits to be covered will maintain the financial sustainability of the corporation. Therefore, if a service that patients need is not included in the list of benefits, they will have to pay for it. "How can they call this universal health coverage?" remarked Carabeo.

Finally, it will not be the Department of Health (DOH), but the PHSC as a corporation, which will ensure the quality of care, appropriateness of services, financial protection – for as long as it is financially sustainable and will return its investments. The DOH will fade into the background as a technical adviser with no real power. It is by this virtue that health care in the country will be corporatized.

"What is clear here is the responsibility of health services is relegated to an ineffective and inefficient corporation that is geared towards fiscal integrity. Through the UHC bill, health care in the country will be a commodity that must return its investment, and not as a genuine service to the people, a right to be ensured by the government," Carabeo ended. ###