SC upholds hospital privatization policy

07/20/2007 | 03:23 PM

e Supreme Court upheld on Tuesday a policy of privatizing government hospitals instituted during the Estrada administration.

In a 23-page ruling penned by Associate Justice Minita Chico-Nazario, the High Tribunal affirmed the constitutionality of the Health Sector Reform Agenda (HSRA) for 1999 – 2001 provided under Executive Order No. 102.

The policy allows the privatization of government-owned hospitals and health facilities.

The Supreme Court acknowledged that instituting reforms in the Department of Health is a valid exercise of the President’s power.

Then President Joseph Estrada issued EO 102 on May 24, 1999.

In November 2004, the Court of Appeals denied a petition of health workers in public hospitals such as the Tondo Medical Center, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), National Orthopedic Hospital, Dr. Jose R. Reyes Memorial Hospital, and San Lazaro Hospital as well as non-government organizations like the Alliance of Health Workers Inc., Health Alliance for Democracy, Council for Health Development, Network Opposed to Privatization, Community Medicine Development Foundation Inc., Philippine Society of Sanitary Engineers Inc., Kilusang Mayo Uno, Gabriela, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, and Kalipunan ng Damayan ng mga Maralita questioning the validity and constitutionality of the presidential edict.

Health employees Elsa Guevarra, Arcadio Gonzales, Jose Galang, Domingo Manay, Tito Esteves, Eduardo Galope, Remedios Ysmael, Alfredo Bacunata, Edgardo Damicog, Remedios Maltu and Remegio Mercado joined in the petition in their private capacity.

Citing Section 17, Article VII of the Constitution, the SC said the Constitution sanctioned President’s authority, by executive or administrative order, to direct the reorganization of government entities under the executive department, including the DOH, which is directly under the supervision and control of the Office of the President.

“To remain effective and efficient, it must be capable of being shaped and reshaped by the President in the manner the Chief Executive deems fit to carry out presidential directives and policies,” the SC ruled.

According to the Supreme Court, the issuance of EO 102 is well within the constitutional power of the President to issue and that he did not usurp any legislative prerogative.

It emphasized that in issuing EO 102, the actions of the DOH secretary, being an alter-ego of the President, are also presumed to be acts of the President.

“It is an exercise of the President’s constitutional power of control over the executive department, supported by the provisions of the Administrative Code, recognized by other statutes and consistently affirmed by this Court,” the Court said.

The SC further said petitioners failed to prove that the HSRA supposedly violated the equal protection and due process clauses that are embodied in Section 1 of Article III. None of the private petitioners were removed from public service, the Court added, nor could they cite actions that would show the reorganization was pursued in bad faith or resulted in actual injury to petitioners.

“Since they failed to substantiate how these constitutional guarantees were breached, petitioners are unsuccessful in establishing the relevance of this provision to the petition, and consequently in annulling the HSRA,” said the SC.

Court records showed that in May 1999, Estrada issued EO 102, which provided for the changes in the roles, functions and organizational processes of the DOH, in which the health agency will refocus its mandate from being the sole provider of health services to being a provider of specific health services and technical assistance.

Under the EO, the DOH will be streamlined while health personnel will be deployed to regional offices and hospitals, as a result of the devolution to local government units of basic services and facilities, as well as specific health-related functions.

On the other hand, HSRA provides for fiscal autonomy of government hospitals, particularly the collection of socialized user fees and the corporate restructuring of government hospitals.

Petitioners questioned the implementation of the Rationalization and Streamlining Plan (RSP) and the issuance of Administrative Order 172 issued by the DOH on January 2001 entitled “Policies and Guidelines on the Private Practice of Medical and Paramedical Professionals in Government Health Facilities,” for imposing an added burden to indigent Filipinos, who cannot afford to pay for medicine and medical services.

They alleged the implementation of these reforms had resulted in making free medicine and free medical services inaccessible to economically disadvantaged Filipinos.

Prior to the decision of the CA, petitioners filed a petition for certiorari before the high court on August 2001, but it referred the petition to the appellate court for appropriate action.

Named respondents in the suit were former Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit, and Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin.

Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura inhibited from the case, having signed pleadings as solicitor general. – GMANews.TV

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