By Jose Ma. Montelibano
The PRC is the Philippine Regulatory Commission. I believe it is tasked to regulate licenses of professionals like doctors, nurses, engineers, etc. I have never dealt with the PRC although I have been approached by interested parties asking for endorsements to become commissioners in this agency. Of course, I never got to accommodate any of these requests because I have no influence whatsoever with the appointing authorities.
At this point, though, I cannot help but wish I did have some kind of influence, not the necessarily the kind that can get commissioners appointed but get some of them terminated. Over the years, in pursuit of my twin advocacies, Gawad Kalinga (GK) and good citizenship, I have had the privilege of regular presence in two major fields – where the very poor are and where Filipino-Americans live. And from these two sectors, I experience the kind of ugly attitude that some government bureaucrats have for the poor who mean little them, and to Filipino-Americans who do medical missions in the Philippines.
First, let me start with the fact that the DOH itself admits it does not have the resources, and hunger and material, to serve all Filipinos. The last I heard, 20-25% of Filipinos, and I assume mostly the poorest among us, cannot get medical services from both government and the private sector. We are talking about out 20-25 million Filipinos here.
Because they are very poor, and many times in remote, hard to reach areas, these Filipinos live and die without medical intervention. Their only hope would be the kindness of doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners who do medical missions for free from the kindness of their hearts.
Medical missions are done by Filipinos based in the country or by Filipino-Americans. It is not so important where they are from. What matters most is that they want to help those who need help but cannot afford to pay for medical services and products. Those who do medical missions are not only kind, they are generous and heroic.
When Philippine-based doctors, dentists and other medical practitioners do their medical missions, what permits do they need from the PRC before they can do so? And these groups often ask, and receive, donations from pharmaceutical companies. Later, as members of the Philippine Medical Association, these kind-hearted medical practitioners get citations of appreciation for their humanitarian endeavors.
Yet, with all the volunteer work of locally-initiated medical missions, hundreds or thousands of them, the DOH continues to profess that millions of Filipinos cannot get the medical treatment.
The PRC licenses doctors, dentists, nurses and other medical practitioners. Why cannot PRC use its powers to persuade those it licenses to treat the needy? Of course, PRC will say it cannot use its powers to force medical practitioners to give their services for free, or when they do not want to. After all, ours is a democracy, PRC will claim.
But if PRC cannot help millions of poor Filipinos get medical treatment, sometimes for the only in their lives, if the DOH admits it cannot serve millions, if the private sector, medical practitioners and pharmaceutical companies cannot do the same as well, then why not actively ask help from whoever can help, why not be a voice for those among us who mutely live and die without a chance to get medical intervention?
Besides being inadequate to its share of the challenge of poverty which denies health services to millions, what we have is a PRC that makes it difficult, frustrating and exasperating for Filipino-American doctors, dentists, nurses and other medical professionals to conduct their medical missions at their own expense, all the way from America? What is it about our poor people that gives PRC the attitude that they are of little or no to PRC who will not go out of its way to play big brother and help them? Worse, why would the same PRC force kinder Filipinos from the US to go through an obstacle course ust to get imposed permits before they can serve the poor?
There have been many discussions, debates and arguments to justify the unjustifiable. Is it so hard for the PRC to understand that it cannot justify denying free health services that the government and the private sector cannot extend to the poor? What is the PRC worried about, that the Philippine Medical Association will frown if Filipino-American medical missions are freely allowed, even facilitated? The same association cannot bring its members to fully address the marginalized population of Filipinos. What is the PRC worried about, that the pharmaceutical companies will frown if Filipino-Americans will bring suitcases of free medicine which the same companies cannot afford anymore to donate themselves?
What higher reason would stop the PRC from encouraging and facilitating Filipino-American medical missions? Other government agencies, like our Central Bank, already bask in the outstanding level of our foreign reserves which Filipino-Americans substantially contribute to – as in billions of dollars every year and growing. Does the PRC know this? Real estate developers scramble to sell to Filipino-Americans. Does the PRC know this? The Department of Tourism and Philippine consulates in the US court Filipino-Americans to visit the motherland. Does the PRC know this, or the fact that many Filipino-American medical missions already aborted scheduled trips here – thanks to the utak wang-wang pervading among commissioners of the PRC?
It does not mean that absolutely no guidance is necessary for Filipino-American medical missions. Some form of registration, even if only to gather information about who they are so government and the people can officially thank them, would be good. At the same time, the PRC can ask the 40,000+ barangays in the Philippines to identify the poor who cannot afford medical treatment so medical missions, both locally-initiated or Filipino-American, will know where they can go and be of help. The PRC can also get instant help from the data bank of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program of the DSWD which already identifies millions of poor families.
In other words, the PRC should make guidelines that make it easier for the poor to get help. I think it is nothing less than criminal for the PRC to instead stand in the way of those who want to help.