In defense of our frontliners

"Some of the most principled people I have met are doctors. They go beyond the call of duty."


Last week, in an unprecedented move, the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) supported by more than 120 medical societies and institutions released a distress call to President Rodrigo Duterte to again put Mega Manila under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) for 15 days and use the time to recalibrate the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The doctors said that “our healthcare workers are burnt out with the seemingly endless number of patients trooping to our hospitals for emergency care and admission.” However, they emphasized that the call for ECQ is only a “time out” so our pandemic control strategies become more responsive and effective.

Our medical experts identified the following problems that plague the country’s pandemic response: hospital workforce deficiency, failure of case finding and isolation, failure of contact tracing and quarantine, transportation safety, workplace safety, public compliance with self-protection, and social amelioration.

It should be noted that some big hospitals in Metro Manila and nearby provinces needed to close because of the big number of their healthcare workers who have contracted the deadly disease, and also because they have exceeded their capacity for COVID-19 patients. Many other hospitals have also announced that they could no longer accept patients because they were already full. We should also remember the significant number of frontliners who have passed on because of this disease.

In Duterte’s address to the nation in response to the doctors’ urgent call, he placed Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, and Laguna under Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) from August 4 to 18 instead of the ECQ that doctors asked for. But not only that, after vigorously defending Health Secretary Francisco Duque, Duterte ranted against and virtually insulted our frontliners, telling them that if they wanted to go on a revolution, then they should go ahead. He also said that the doctors should have sought an audience with him instead of going public with their call.

Before this, Sen. Cynthia Villar, in an interview, said that she did not favor restoring ECQ and that instead, frontliners should do their jobs better. Villar was severely criticized for this comment that she had to backtrack and claim that she was referring to the Department of Health (DOH), and not the healthcare workers.

The PCP responded to Duterte’s comments through another letter saying that frontliners had no intention to revolt and that they were not going to abandon their patients despite the declaration of the MECQ. What is more interesting in the PCP’s second letter is the disclosure that our frontliners have written Secretary Duque and the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) in April, requesting assistance for them to be able to deal with the pandemic better. The PCP said that things would not be as bad if Duque addressed their concerns early on.

In ignoring the frontliners’ pleas early on, Duque has again proven his incompetence in handling this crisis.

Now, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) is on center stage because of allegations of massive corruption. Top PhilHealth officials have resigned. In July, three officers including Atty. Thorrsson Montes Keith, former Anti-Fraud Legal Officer tendered resignations after a heated meeting when allegations of widespread corruption were made. Recently, PhilHealth’s Vice-President for Operations, Ret. Brig. Gen. Augustus de Villa. De Villa also resigned. He is implicated in alleged illegal purchase of network switches for PhilHealth’s information technology project worth P2.1 billion.

According to the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), conservatively, PhilHealth has lost more than P153 billion to corruption since 2013. Keith on the other hand, accused officials of fattening their pockets by around P15 billion through a syndicate within.

Not long after these accusations surfaced, there are those saying that doctors and hospitals connive to defraud PhilHealth. They lambast and shame doctors allegedly for being privileged. This is not to say that there is no rotten apple in the medical profession because I have known a few. However, to generalize and accuse doctors and hospitals like everyone is corrupt is a different matter. This is most unfair.

My highest respect is reserved for our medical practitioners. My decades of dealing with them have taught me deep appreciation for the very difficult job they do. Some of the most principled people I have met are doctors. They go beyond the call of duty. Many do not get paid for treating poor patients. Sometimes, they get a basket of fruit, a cake, or any token in lieu of their professional fees. And we do not hear them complain.

During this pandemic, our medical frontliners are the real lifesavers. They do their work quietly and diligently treating patients and providing hope whenever they can. Their hours are long and they cannot put their guard down even for a minute. They are exposed to COVID-19 day in and day out. They sacrifice and risk their very lives, and by extension, their families’ lives, in order to do their job.

Besides my many years of dealing with doctors and other healthcare professionals, I am mother to two doctors. I know how difficult it is for them especially these days.

Our medical frontliners are our lifeline. During this pandemic, government must listen to them because they are the ones in the battlefield. And Filipinos should thank them for what they do. We owe them.

@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook

Topics: Philippine College of Physicians , Rodrigo Duterte , Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine , COVID-19 , Department of Health
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