Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Labor Pains

(This was my speech delivered in my capacity as the USC Manila Chairperson at a Public Hearing on the UP College of Medicine's proposed Tuition Fee Adjustment, an event held yesterday, 17 January 2006 at the BSLR-East.)

For a century now, the UP College of Medicine has been giving birth to almost a hundred children – the medical classes throughout the years – and there seems to be no end to its gravidity. Annually in its hallowed womb are developing seven offspring – from learning unit one to year level seven. The medical students, by the grace of God, their perseverance, and the work of their families continue to traverse each day the life of a future healer. It is in that analogy that I’d like to contextualize the proposal we have before us today – the tuition and other fee adjustment (which undoubtedly is an increase) demanded for by the College administration.

Let’s look at the UP College of Medicine as a pregnant patient who comes in at the OB Admitting Section one evening with a chief complaint of watery vaginal discharge sixteen hours prior to consult.

On donning her gloves, the resident begins her internal examination. She finds out among other things that due to the transverse lie of the baby, Lady Med has to undergo a caesarean section. The resident informs and then asks Lady Med: “Nanay, kakailanganin kang operahin para maipanganak si baby. Hindi kasi siya pwedeng idaan sa baba. Handa po ba kayo para sa mga gastusin?” To which the anxious mother replies, “May dala po akong pera doctor. Five hundred po.”

Note that a c-section even for charity patients costs more than five hundred pesos. That is why the resident, mildly irritated at this answer, replies “Hindi po ba kayo nakapaghanda? Nanay naman, siyam na buwan po ninyong dinala ang sanggol. Hindi po biro ang manganak, bakit po hindi pinaghandaan?”

Then, on reading the chart, the resident recalls that Lady Med’s Bag of Waters actually ruptured a long time ago – sixteen hours prior. So she asks again to confirm – “Mommy kaninang umaga pa ba pumutok ang panubigan? Bakit ngayon ka lang nagpa-ospital?” With a faint smile that might as well be a smirk, Lady Med answered “Kasi po namiyesta muna kami.”

That irony of what is usually claimed as Filipino culture – the tendency to splurge even in the face of limited means – is the first case in point as to why the proposed Tuition Fee Adjustment is improper. Lady Med, even after knowing that she is pregnant and that she was about to go into labor, still found it in herself to attend to a fiesta than to dutifully have herself admitted for observation while her husband goes to creditors to seek finances for hospitalization.

Those are the first two questions: given that the administration claims financial instability for several years already, why is it only now that the proposal for a TFA is made? And regarding the claim that we have run out of options, why is it that for the past year several festivals, tokens, statues, and celebrations took place? The chronicity of the financial problem and the ability of previous administrations to treat its symptoms only show that with the right fiscal policies and sound priorities, we can survive even without a TFA.

There is also the matter that the proposal in toto seeks an eighty percent plus increase from the status quo tuition. It could be going against a current legal document – the Commission on Higher Education Memorandum Order No. 14 series of 2005 issued last May – that says “The allowable increase in tuition and other fees should not be more than the prevailing national inflation rate.” This tuition cap, so to speak, was set last summer at around eight percent, a far cry from the eighty five percent increase being proposed. While the legalities are best settled by the lawyers, we still maintain that even government saw it prudent not to burden its citizens with more expenses by dampening tuition increases.

But that does not mean that students would allow an increase if it were in the range of eight percent or below. There is another glaring reason why a tuition fee increase as proposed today is not sound. This is because there is no solid, clear-cut assurance that increases in tuition would go to the College for its use. As narrated by UPCM administrative officials themselves, in the University of the Philippines System, tuition is collected for allocation by the central administration to the different units of the university. Thus, if central administration sees it fit to prioritize infrastructure building in UP Cebu College, for example, it may channel tuition collected from units in Luzon to the Visayas unit. Why are we to venture into plans wherein we have no assurance of their concrete benefit?

Furthermore, it is actually pre-empting on the part of the College of Medicine to go ahead with its tuition fee increase proposal given that early in the school year, no less than UP President Emerlinda Roman already called for a rational study on the expenses of each unit in the university. The University Student Council is one with the Medicine Student Council in saying that the internal computations made by the College administration are not representative of the true cost per student. We believe that it is prudent not to pre-empt the fiscal study commissioned by the UP President which she delegated to the experts in finance – the College of Business Administration and the School of Economics in UP Diliman.

Notwithstanding those procedural questions that have to be satisfactorily addressed before any tuition proposal may be allowed to prosper, we are forgetting the more important policy forecast that whatever happens in the country’s top medical school undoubtedly has ripple effects throughout the healthcare education system of the nation.

In summary, the University Student Council believes that it is not proper for the College of Medicine administration to propose a tuition increase because 1) alternatives have not been exhausted, 2) procedural matters have to be addressed, and most importantly 3) we should not forget the nature of our institution being a State University – that the burden of funding education should not lie on the students and their parents but on the government.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Doctors who MIND

(Below is a reproduction of an e-mail sent by Dr. Willie T. Ong of the doctors' advocacy group MIND.)

Hi friends,

Greetings to a prosperous New Year.

I have some good news for our doctors and medical students. Just for everybody's information: The Medical Malpractice Bills are dead! The Osmena Bill and Villar Bill did NOT pass.There will be NO malpractice insurance. NO jail term for doctors.

Thanks and congratulations to the efforts of doctors in the medical societies, the NGO's and individual doctors who pitched in too. If you talked about malpractice, if you wrote an article, if you organized a forum, then we all deserved a commendation.

Even Ms. Korina Sanchez has admitted defeat that their group cannot pass the Malpractice bill. So this is really the GOOD news you won't see in our headlines.

What the PMA is now working at is the Patient's Rights Bill (less harsh) and some sticky provisions therein. This is according to PMA Secretary General Dr Rey Melchor Santos.

I believe the continuous barrage of news stories in the media has turned the tide and thinking of our politicians. News about the brain drain and hospitals closing made our politicians think twice before passing this malpractice bill.

Another good news for doctors is that powerful people in the media have become advocates for doctors. You can see more positive front page news about doctors staying, medical tourism, “barefoot doctors” trained in the community, etc. Many people are now aware of the problem and are on our side.

On our end, for 2005, we have been touring the different medical schools. I have lectured in 11 medical schools so far on topics such as “How to get ahead in medicine”, “Finding your niche in medicine” and “Testmanship: How to pass exams without studying.”

Since October of 2005, a heaven-sent opportunity came up. We are now producing and hosting a Cable TV health show. Simply put, it’s a purely public service program. (Our medical leaders agree that TV is the weakest point in their advocacy.)

If you have time, check out our TV show at RJTV (Sky 19, Home 19, Destiny 79) every Fridays 5 PM to 6 PM with myself, Dra. Liza and Dr Philip Cruz as hosts. We also have an interactive health show from 6 PM to 6:30 PM, where patients can ask their questions live on the air and get free advice. We also have replays on Saturdays from 7 AM to 8 AM.

So far, we have guested majority of our medical leaders in the Philippine Medical Association, Philippine College of Surgeons, Philippine College of Physicians and others… We have given airtime to our leaders to spread their advocacies, all for free, no strings attached. We have no drug ads whatsoever, no sponsorship whatsoever, no secret deals. It’s just helping.

I believe it’s time to uplift the quality of our media, so we can give honest, objective and scientific advice to our patients (and NOT based on what advertisers want).

Just like the MIND meetings, I thank my parents again, and my sister Julie Ong-Alonzo and brother-in-law Mr. Tecson Alonzo for pitching in and helping us with the costs of producing a weekly TV show.

Here are our other plans for 2006:

(1) Opening of Philippine Medical Museum at Pasay City by March or April 2006.
(2) MIND meet by May 2006.

My sincerest thanks to all the hundreds of e-mails, comments and suggestions I have received in the past year, both here and abroad. Thank you friends for spreading the good news.

Finally, some brotherly advice. I would just like to say that it pays to keep a positive outlook and surely good things will come if we start looking at how to help others. Only when we give, will we start to receive. And God will return all the blessing back to us a hundred-fold.

God bless.

Your friends,

Willie and Liza

P.S. Log on to our MIND blog at for more info.