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When something goes wrong…

Be it major or minor, healthcare providers will likely make a mistake somewhere in their career, whether they know it or not.

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Healthcare providers wish they could be perfect all the time and never commit an error involving a patient. Unfortunately, that’s not reality. Mistakes can and do happen at every level of the healthcare continuum.

Human beings deliver medical services, so errors are inevitable. Be it major or minor, healthcare providers will likely make a mistake somewhere in their career, whether they know it or not.
When something goes wrong, the main question is whether damage or loss occurs as a result. Here’s the other question. What do people do when they see a mistake or inappropriate behavior occurring in others and in themselves?

Recent studies have indicated that cultures of silence are the norm. A considerable amount of error goes unreported. It is estimated that only 25 percent of medication errors are reported.

Adverse drug-related events are common in both the inpatient and the outpatient settings. Studies of hospitalized patients find that up to 6.5 percent had an adverse drug event and about 25 percent of those were preventable. While less is known about adverse drug events in outpatients, a recent study demonstrated that over 25 percent of outpatients had experienced a recent adverse drug event, with 40 percent of those being preventable.

When a harmful error takes place, patients first want an explicit, not evasive, statement that an error occurred, what the error was and why it happened. Second, patients want to understand the implications of the error for their health their care team will deal with the consequences. Third, patients want to know how the doctor, nurses, other healthcare workers and the healthcare system will learn from this error. Fourth, patients want an apology.

However, healthcare workers may hesitate to provide such information to patients. Studies of physicians’ attitudes have identified several barriers to disclosure, such as fear of litigation or media attention.

These barriers can lead physicians to “choose their words carefully” when talking to patients, mentioning the adverse event but avoiding explicitly saying that an error occurred. Physicians think about whether to take personal responsibility for an error, or point the error to a breakdown in the system of care.

This mismatch between recommendations that all harmful errors be disclosed to patients and the evidence that, in practice, such disclosure is uncommon, has two potential interpretations.
Clinicians may appreciate that error disclosure is “the right thing to do” but experience insurmountable obstacles in their attempts to tell patients about errors.

Alternatively, this disclosure gap may reflect certain complexities in the decision about whether and how to disclose errors to patients. Little is known about whether disclosure of errors that cause minor harm or disclosure of near misses is desirable from either patients’ or physicians’ perspectives.

During my years in patient experience management, I was part of the Risk Management Committee which studied cases across the globe that resulted in serious adverse outcomes.

It is, indeed, a challenge to reveal the medical error and there are diverse factors that affect a physician/nurse or healthcare worker’s readiness to disclose errors. But beyond a duty to the patient or the hospital, every member of the care team has a responsibility to practice responsible and honest medicine, with empathy to the patient and family and with a commitment to improve processes and systems to prevent future errors.

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With over 30 years of experience in patient care, healthcare marketing, business development and hospital operations, Marilen Tronqued-Lagniton is a Certified Lead Auditor for ISO 9001:2015. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from St. Theresa’s College in QC, Philippines; completed the MBA for Healthcare Administrators at the Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA; Completed the Patient Safety Officer Course, Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) & Harvard School of Public Health (T.H. Chan) in Cambridge, MA; Completed the Advanced Leadership Program for C-Suite Leaders, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University (Evanston, IL). Email: [email protected]

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Commentary

That crazy 6-putt of Danny Lee

Golf mirrors life. A golf swing is executed, bringing the club up and then down, much like life’s ‘ups and downs.

Macabangkit B. Lanto

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Poor Bryson DeChambeau. When golfers reminisce the 120th edition of the United States Open Golf Championship, they will likely talk about the disastrously stupid 6-putt of New Zealander Danny Lee than the dreamed victory of long-hitting DeChambeau, his first major championship title. Lee’s embarrassing gaffe, which is of epic proportion, has stolen the thunder from him.

I hadn’t watched live the US Open last week. In fact, I forgot all about it — traditionally, it is held during the month of June, but had to be postponed to last week on account of the pandemic — until Professor Gerry Collado posted in our exclusive Viber chatroom about the exciting match in the monstrous Winged Foot golf course. Later, Councilor Marciano Medalla posted a video of Lee’s monumental meltdown.

Lee was scoring relatively decent until this queer twist of fate. They were playing in one of the most difficult and treacherous golf courses in the world with narrow fairways, thick roughs and undulating greens — Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York. Earlier, legends Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and other golf stars did not make the cut of players qualified to play in the last two days of the four-day tournament. Lee scored 3 over par going to the disastrous 18th hole of the third day, Saturday, when his nightmare happened.

Allow me to quote a report to visualize how it happened. “After missing his par putt and then his bogey putt, he seems to lash out in a frustrated manner at the third out, which couldn’t have been longer than two feet, then basically ping-pongs his way back and forth across the hole until it eventually goes in at the sixth attempt for a quintuple bogey.” He carded a score of nine in that hole.

The golfing world was shocked at what happened. What was playing in Lee’s mind? How did he lose his focus and composure? Was he overwhelmed by his desire to win to cause his anosognosia on the fundamentals of executing a putt? Was it self-flagellation for putting poorly the whole day? Did he have an attack of mental deficit or aberration? Or a combination of the above? Golf psychologists could explain it better. Lee has not offered any explanation except to say that he withdrew from the tournament because of wrist injury.

You think Lee was the only golf professional who committed that mental lapse? Wrong. Ace golfers Ernie Else in the 2016 Masters and Sergio Garcia in the 2016 Players Championship 6-putted. But they were not four feet close to the hole as Lee.

All golfers can relate to the woes of Lee. They are humans and are prisoners of emotional and psychological variants. They are not robots. A little mental distraction and disturbance could affect their swing. That is why golf is both a physical and mental game. One must have the physique, strength (DeChambeau was reported to have added 40 pounds to prep for the tourney), confidence and the mental fortitude to resist interference. And the latter qualities are most needed in the crucial aspect of the game — putting, the bane of golfers.

A story is told about a first-time learner who asked his golf instructor why is the word spelled “putt” instead of “put.” The instructor answered that “put” means to place a thing where you want it, while “putt” means merely a futile attempt to do the same.” The pressure is very much in putting. Your 300-yard long drive and accurate iron shots will not count much if not complimented by a good putt. More often, a golfer walks out cursing for a missed short putt.

Golf mirrors life. A golf swing is executed, bringing the club up and then down, much like life’s “ups and downs.” In golf, you have mishits and good hits like life’s miseries and joys.

Yes, everybody experiences hiccups in life, but a man is measured by how many times he rises every time he stumbles. In golf, you may score bad in one hole but you can recover in succeeding holes.

Email: amb_mac_lanto
@yahoo.com

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Fr. Suarez healed Saudi royalty

Fr. Suarez was indeed a controversial priest. He was careless, forgetting to get permission to say Masses from local bishops.

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This story was related to me by someone in the inner circle of the late Fr. Fernando Suarez, the healing priest, at a crowded fundraising party. She took me aside to a quiet corner, and rattled off this story almost without breathing.

At one time, Fr. Suarez visited the overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in Saudi Arabia. They were so hungry to see a priest, hungry to hear Holy Mass. He was literally mobbed. He saw how important it was to soothe these tired workers thirsty for the Lord, who were subjected to extreme hardships and loneliness.

(The dialogue has been reconstructed.)

OFW1 — Father, we beg you, please say Mass for us.

Fr. Suarez — Are you kidding? You want me to lose my head? Mere possession of the Bible can get you beheaded here, what more saying Mass.

OFW2 — We guarantee your safety, Father. We will do it in the basement of our residential building. No one will know about it.

Fr. Suarez — Sorry, I am not ready to become a martyr.

Hounded for hours, finally, his heart softened — Mass at the basement of an unknown building. News spread like wild fire. Everybody wanted to go to his healing Mass. The basement was full to the brim. Alas, the mob drew the attention of the security. They barged in and arrested Fr. Suarez. They reported the news to the King, who summoned him.

King — Where do you get your power to heal? (Fr. Suarez points a finger upwards without a word.) You mean Allah? My mother is very sick. If you can heal her, I will let you go.

And so, the mother was healed and he was set free. But for a moment there, he thought he was a goner.

You are never a goner if the Lord is on your side.

Fr. Suarez healing prayer goes viral
I met Fr. Suarez quite by accident. I was asked to join him in Los Baños. In the morning, we went to Monte Maria in Batangas, a future global pilgrim site. I brought my video camera along.

The site had a panoramic view of the Verde Strait from about 500 feet above the sea. The place reminded me of the giant statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro. Hundreds of ships pass by every day, looking so tiny from our commanding view.

The subsequent healing prayer I shot of Fr. Suarez at Monte Maria was also quite an accident. I just suddenly had the idea, and he readily agreed. He said the healing prayer spontaneously beneath the makeshift adoration arch. The wind was howling like a wolf, and I had a hard time editing the soundtrack.

His healing prayer was my very first YouTube video. I learned to post it by myself by trial and error. It was the Holy Spirit clicking the mouse.

That healing prayer had 10,000 viewers in a few days.

Then did I realize it was the Lord who did the video. All those “accidents” were His plan. In a few months, the video went viral with more than a million hits. There were reports of people healed by praying with Fr. Suarez on the Internet. God heals even in cyberspace.

You can view his healing prayer, and pray with him for healing at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UP3LHBgtIc.

Rejected by Filipino bishops but endorsed by the Vatican

Before Fr. Suarez passed away on 4 February 2020, anti-Suarez groups led by Filipino bishops accused him of sexual abuse of children based on hearsay, ending up in distortions and trial by publicity in social media. Even the CBCP Monitor, official newsletter of the Church, attacked him. It was said that when he went to them to explain his side, they refused to listen to him.

Unable to defend himself, ignored by his accusers, Fr. Suarez went to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF), the highest authority of the Church, which investigates miracles.

Before he died, the CDF cleared him of all hearsay accusations. A broadsheet wrote — “Cleared ng Vatican sa mga akusasyon sa kanya (Cleared by the Vatican of all accusations).”

Fr. Suarez was indeed a controversial priest. He was careless, forgetting to get permission to say Masses from local bishops. Or the priest who invited him forgot. He left his Canadian congregation and became a floating priest without a parish, until a bishop in Batangas took him in. Controversy followed him everywhere. But they were all immaterial, because the Lord still chose him to be His healer, and he healed tens of thousands worldwide. His charisma was total.

Here is his reply to his detractors, who ignored his explanations. Listen to his side: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgMH _GLmrag&feature=share

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EU Parliament threatens Filipinos’ human rights

Someone ought to tell the EU parliament that its act of threatening the Philippines with economic sanctions, without valid grounds for doing so… is in itself a violation of human rights.

Victor Avecilla

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Days ago, the parliament of the European Union (EU) threatened to revoke the trade perks and tariff privileges it has been extending to the Philippines for the past years. The threat came in the wake of reports the EU received from anti-government elements in the Philippines about alleged human rights violations in the country.

According to the EU Parliament, the Philippine government should improve the human rights situation in the country or face economic sanctions such as tariff adjustments designed to disable Philippine industries.

That threat from the EU Parliament is rooted on the faulty premise that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte actually tolerates human rights violations in the Philippines.

The human rights situation in the Philippines is far from perfect, but then, even the United States, the bastion of human rights in the world, has its share of human rights problems. According to the international news media, racism is robust in America today, something the EU Parliament seems to ignore.

In assessing the human rights situation in a given country, it is not enough to focus on the existence of violations. What must also be considered are how its government addresses the problem, and if systems are in place to check abuses.

Take the problem of illegal drugs in the Philippines. Critics of the administration claim that many innocent people have been killed in the government’s war against the drug menace.

The critics, however, conveniently overlooked that because past administrations allowed the drug problem to proliferate over the decades, the drug menace became so extensive that only a strongman approach to it can stop it.

In other words, had it not been for the iron-handed approach President Duterte took against the drug menace, taxpaying citizens would not have found out that many government officials identified with past administrations, like Quezon City Councilor Hero Bautista, for instance, were drug users all along.

That same iron-handed approach led to criminal charges being filed against ex-Justice secretary Leila de Lima for her alleged role in allowing drug lords in the national penitentiary to operate with impunity from inside its walls. De Lima’s continued detention has been upheld by the Supreme Court (SC).

Like all wars, the anti-drug war waged by the Philippine government will have casualties. Thus, the question to ask is, who should be criticized — the current leadership fighting the drug syndicates, or the past administrations that allowed the drug menace to grow unabated through the decades?

If free speech and press freedom are inexistent in the Philippines today, all privately-owned media would have already been shuttered and reopened under government control. From the time Duterte assumed office in 2016 up to the present, the news media remain at liberty to criticize the government and to publicize the views of critics of the administration.

The ABS-CBN broadcasting giant was not shuttered by the government. It discontinued broadcasts because its last legislative franchise expired and Congress did not renew it because of violations of law cited in the congressional record, particularly the network’s illegal use of the franchise of another broadcast facility.

Rappler queen bee Maria Ressa is currently facing libel and tax evasion charges, but the operations of her online news forum continue unrestricted to this day.

Elections take place as scheduled, and the political opposition have representatives in both houses of Congress. Their voices are heard in the legislature and disseminated by the news media.
There is even a Commission on Human Rights, which never misses any opportunity to criticize the administration.

The SC and lower courts are open and functioning. Laws enacted by Congress and the acts of the President and his Cabinet have been challenged in the SC on many occasions. Court rulings are obeyed by the Executive and Legislative branches of the national government.

Someone ought to tell the EU parliament that its act of threatening the Philippines with economic sanctions, without valid grounds for doing so, and at a time when Filipinos are facing serious economic and health problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, is in itself a violation of human rights.

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Doctor wars

Dean Dela Paz

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As uncomfortable as we are at being judged unfairly, that the Philippines remains the worst regional hotspot is a matter of record by both the World Health Organization and other external organizations that compare us, rightly or wrongly, with other countries battling COVID-19.

The comparisons are however debatable as most benchmarks might be inapplicable or inadequate in capturing many of the minute complexities where the virus is itself generally an unknown variable. Understandably, there are reasons to debunk comparative benchmarks as cultural factors including immeasurable and non-comparative standards are applied.

Unfortunately, such inapplicability is worsened by the increasing crash of credibility among the medical community upon whom we entrusted the pandemic responses.

For one, the Philippine medical community cannot seem to agree with itself. We saw this in the two years prior to 2020. The deadly Dengvaxia scandal had split the community along several widening fissures and fault lines. From those conflicted and guilty for politicizing the vaccine’s program, to those seeking justice for the dead children, and even those who simply sought the truth.

In this pandemic, chasm-wide fault lines are getting in the way of credible and timely responses. Diagnose the symptoms of an increasing lack of unity within the medical community. Public trust and confidence are quickly waning as division, infighting and intrigue cancel each other out.

Note, the Health undersecretary has more credibility than her principal. Former secretaries have taken to denying involvement with anonymous physician groups.

One faction raised their fists against the authorities where they were negotiating for a two-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). Without demanding for an ECQ, a larger group that included frontline nurses sought a more intelligent, non-military, health care-focused approach, including quantified allocations to appropriately compensate health workers.

Among the divisive skirmishes was the debate on the dangers of rapid anti-body tests peddled by some against a greater many who exposed its dangers in catalyzing the infection rate.

Poisoned by political partisanship and entrepreneurial posting and peddling in social media, these wars among the community are fought very publicly and very visibly, as factions now go for each other’s jugular on the issue of continued lockdowns advocated by one group against another that pushes for specific medication and a complete opening of the economy. How polarizing is that?

Yet, both are evidence based.

The medical battlefield is aggravated by a lengthening string of reversals coming from supposed experts and scientists who openly argue issues like the toggling of on-again, off-again impositions of quarantine permutations and combinations.

Worse, the infighting has its own comorbidities. People have noticed drastic and self-destructive power play within the Inter-Agency Task Force populated with a forced mix of political appointees and career doctors and scientists. As infections rose, it is unfortunate that guidance has been increasingly dictated by political appointees rather than by scientists as police powers are increasingly employed against a health issue.

While continuously testing various and even divergent hypotheses is integral to the scientific process, warring doctors face the danger of killing their patients as they play the game of one-upmanship.

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Ombudsman Martires, retiring yet?

Before asking Congress to restore his office’s original proposed budget of P4.6 billion for 2021, Ombudsman Martires should reassess where he is leading the office.

John Henry Dodson

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Former Supreme Court (SC) justice and now Ombudsman Samuel Martires should send himself to pasture and leave the job of going after crooks in government to somebody who will not undermine his own mandate.

As if the Office of the Ombudsman is not grossly underperforming by convicting mere fingerlings before the Sandiganbayan, comes now Martires stopping lifestyle checks on those in government suspected of being corrupt.

Worse, he has made it practically impossible for the public and the media to get access to the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of government officials and workers, short of them filing a petition under the Freedom of Information order.

What’s the point of requiring submission of the SALN if they will just be hidden from scrutiny purportedly because they had been “weaponized” by warring politicians and their minions? So what if the SALN are weaponized by the pot that calls the kettle black and vice versa? Let them burn.

The SALN can only be a weapon against thieving government officials who cannot explain how they can live like kings and queens despite their modest pay and with their respective families not having enough sources of income to afford luxuries.

For those who are not dipping their fingers in taxpayers’ money and those who are not involving themselves in shady government deals, there’s absolutely nothing to fear about their SALN being examined.

Thus, this excuse by Ombudsman Martires on why he limited access to SALN to those with a court order, to his investigators and to the declarant themselves, is pure baloney. In the first place, what would the SALN declarants have a need for the very documents they filed?

Ombudsman Martires talked about logic, but did he find any in his order stopping the conduct by his investigators of lifestyle checks? According to him, he did so because he wanted to ask Congress to amend the law that calls for lifestyle checks because it is allegedly flawed.

Flawed or not, if a law has not been repealed or amended, then it is in full force as it is, isn’t it? And as a public official, isn’t Martires duty-bound to enforce the same instead of subverting it? As a former SC associate justice, Ombudsman Martires should be the first to uphold the law.

True, the Ombudsman is better off proving the ultimate facts alleged in the graft and corruption cases his office is prosecuting: That this governor stole this much money, or that this Cabinet secretary benefitted from sweetheart deals.

There’s no debating Martires’ assertion that the Ombudsman doesn’t need the SALN to score convictions. Indeed, the SALN, at their best, may only mirror the fruits of one’s corrupt ways with the mansions and sports cars bought and luxury travels undertaken, for example.

Yes, the SALN may not be the smoking gun in corruption cases before the Sandiganbayan even if the SALN had been just that in past impeachment cases, wherein the rules of court were loosely applied in the proceedings, if they were applied at all.

But the SALN may provide the smoke that alerts the public and the media about the fire of corruption that will now be hidden because of Martires’ order denying public access to what is, after all, a public document.

The Office of the Ombudsman was previously called the Tanodbayan for a reason: For it to serve as the people’s watchman against corruption. The Ombudsman is not supposed to guard the people so they cannot see what shenanigans government officials are up to.

In fact, the Ombudsman should, in direct contrast to its present policies, make it easier for people to get hold of the SALN so they can serve as force multipliers in sniffing out scoundrels in public office.

Before asking Congress to restore his office’s original proposed budget of P4.6 billion for 2021, Ombudsman Martires should reassess where he is leading the office. Better yet, he should seriously consider retirement before he mucks up his legacy, his lifetime of public service.

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Understanding health care workers’ poignant plight

Government must give serious consideration to maintaining the attractiveness of nursing as a career by the provision of fair pay and conditions of employment and career prospects.

Joe Zaldarriaga

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The coronavirus pandemic tested the health care systems of practically all countries worldwide, including affluent western and European nations. According to a recent report released by the International Council of Nurses (ICN), there is already a global shortage of almost six million nurses prior to the pandemic, and became more acute due to the virus. Demand for international nurses from the usual destination countries is likely to continue if pre-COVID-19 nursing shortages persist.

According to ICN’s State of the World’s Nursing (SOWN) report, the Philippines is often described adopting a “train for export” model of nurse education, facilitated by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). This, ICN added, is to enable local nurses to move and work abroad, where pay and career opportunities are much more attractive, and for them to then remit part of their foreign currency earnings back to their family.

Most nursing schools in the Philippines are in the private sector, with nursing students paying for their education, often with the express intention of moving abroad to practice when they graduate.

The ICN report said the outflow of nurses from the Philippines has been around 15,000 to 20,000 per annum in recent years. In the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) alone, almost 240,000 local nurses are working in OECD countries. A significant number of local nurses are also posted in Saudi Arabia, Europe (UK and Ireland) and Asia/Australasia (Singapore, New Zealand, Australia). The United States is also reported to be the home for almost 150,000 Filipino nurses, earning as much as 20 times what they were making back home.

The remittances flowing back into the country from the migrant nurses help boost the Philippine economy and support the local population. Total remittances to the Philippines have grown substantially in recent years and reached $34 billion in 2018, with much of these funds coming from service workers, especially nurses.

The unremitting migration of local nurses elsewhere to seek greener pastures in recent years has significantly depleted the country’s nursing workforce. The effect of this outflow was greatly felt when the pandemic hit the country, as the government appealed to health care workers in the provinces and those returning from abroad to help beef up the frontline workforce in the capital in the fight against the dreaded virus.

During the early months when the pandemic hit the country, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) issued a temporary suspension order preventing nurses from going overseas. This order put nurses with existing employment contracts with hospitals overseas in a precarious situation of missing tremendous opportunity to earn higher pay and perks that they would not receive if they choose to stay at home.

While the number of COVID cases in the country continues to increase, it was a huge relief for health care workers, nurses in particular, when the President stepped in and ordered the lifting of the suspension order for health workers and new hires who secured requirements by 31 August to leave the country.

Despite the move to allow health care workers with contracts to travel overseas, the President appealed to the remaining frontliners and volunteers to take care of COVID-19 patients and help in the fight against the dreaded virus.

In an attempt to entice local nurses to stay and serve the country first, the DoLE recently urged the government to increase the salary of nurses. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said a significant salary upgrade for nurses is long overdue, adding that this is the reason why some 200,000 local nurses are unemployed despite the Department of Health’s (DoH) emergency hiring program.

Bello said we cannot blame nurses from the private sector from leaving the country. They work from eight to 16 hours, with the average salary ranging only from P9,000 to P18,000 as compared to public hospital nurses’ proposed minimum take home pay of P32,000 a month.

Echoing Bello’s call, Filipino Nurses United’s (FNU) head Maristela Abenojar said we cannot blame private hospital nurses from leaving the country, adding that the government needs to improve their working conditions and increase their salaries for them to stay.

While public hospital nurses are set to receive adjusted salary packages under the Department of Budget and Management’s Circular 2002-4 issued on 17 July, FNU is desolate that the private sector nurses were not included.

The FNU said some nurses in the private sector cannot even afford their own basic needs because their salary is “way below” the minimum wage. These overworked nurses, FNU added, are made to handle a patient load beyond the DoH-set standard of 1:12 patients with no additional pay for overtime or extended work.

Abenojar said nurses’ work in private hospitals is not valued in the country, adding that it is an example of the neglect and exploitation our nurses face.

FNU’s call is now being addressed as concrete actions are being taken care of by relevant government agencies to enhance the working conditions of health care workers. The urgent task is to agree on the terms, start aligning and operationalizing whatever changes will be formalized.

My take right now is for Bello and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to lobby at Congress for the urgent deliberation and passing of the law that would increase the salaries of nurses working in both public and private hospitals.

Moving forward, the government must give serious consideration to maintaining the attractiveness of nursing as a career by the provision of fair pay and conditions of employment and career prospects in order to ensure that the mid- to long-term supply of new nurses is not compromised.

Indeed, 2020 is the Year of the Nurse. At times like this, we are all reminded of the important role all of our health care heroes play in caring for people in crisis. I will continue to salute our health care workers and be grateful for the work they are doing. They are the country’s real heroes, no doubt.

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Budget alert

Clinging to parochial interests, like salivating for a big share of public works projects… borders on criminal intent to do harm.

Nick V. Quijano Jr.

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Thanks to the word war at the House of Representatives, ostensibly fueled by unequal allocations of the multibillion-peso funds for infrastructure projects, we are alerted on how crucial this year’s proposed national budget is.

Before the serious stuff, we should first congratulate House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano for this event. Many are saying if it wasn’t for his unbridled ambitions for higher office come 2022, there wouldn’t be a brewing power struggle at the House.

The loose talk, however, on Cayetano’s political ambitions can be safely ignored. Scrutinizing the proposed P4,606 trillion budget takes precedence over the bleak future political fortunes of the House Speaker.

Anyway, the first “wang-wang” with which the Congress fight alerted us is the fact that the proposed budget is an “election year budget.”

Such a budget type is a euphemism for the actual fact politicians need to get their hands on wads of expense money ahead of the 2022 national and local elections.

“I have been in Congress long enough (to know) that if there’s anything that we should do, (it is to) exercise extra vigilance in what is called the election year budget because that will be the source of favors that those in power will be dispensing,” says opposition stalwart Franklin Drilon.

Exercising vigilance on the budget, of course, means we thoroughly scrutinize voluminous documents. But the multibillion-peso fund for public works is where everyone is presently examining with a magnifying glass.

Drilon charges the multibillion-peso fund for public works projects “is open to corruption and abuse for the 2022 elections.”

Sen. Panfilo Lacson similarly expresses concerns over the public works budget. Lacson, however, isn’t so much about looking out where the funds eventually end up, but on the shady methods used in making funds available for the projects.

This early, Lacson is warning officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) they have a “lot of explaining to do” on the presence of the unconstitutional lump sum allocations in their budget.

At the same time, Lacson is also questioning why in the DPWH’s P532 billion budget officials are again appropriating money for infrastructure projects, which had already been funded this year.
Alarm and scandal over the public works projects, particularly when called out as “pork barrels,” are nothing new. It’s a yearly egregious occurrence at the House.

So much so the only charitable thing which can be said about it is that enterprising solons have an insatiable fetish for public works projects.

But with this pandemic crisis and its devastating effects, we must finally find a cure for this deranged fetish. No wishful waiting for a vaccine here.

True, there is an unshakeable cynicism Congress can’t mend its old ways. Overnight cure might be impossible, but we really need to keep on trying and forcibly rehabilitate, if need be, the congressional pigsty.

Lately, however, there are salient indications a congressional rehab might not be as difficult as first thought. In fact, the recent astonishing remarks of Mr. Duterte’s old friend and ally, former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, can be taken as a clear hint even administration allies want to air out the foulness in Congress.

While his candid roasting of the national leadership – when he called “the handling of the COVID pandemic in the entire Philippines is a failure” – shocks allies, Alvarez’s more important pitch, however, is that with the country facing “big problems,” there is need to elect capable national leaders in 2022.

“Let’s choose a President who can handle this COVID situation. One who has brains and not just one who shows courage. We need someone who has brains,” Alvarez says.

“It is not yet clear when this COVID will end and there is no medicine yet. This will cross over to the next administration. That’s why we need to choose a President who is knowledgeable,” he adds.

Furthermore, Alvarez says, “Another problem is the economy. The people are unemployed, businesses have closed down, and OFW (overseas Filipino workers) are coming home jobless. The President must know how to revive these businesses.”

While some of us will take Alvarez’s remarks as mere politicking, what he does admit is responsible and sensible. Substituting “congressman or senator” for “president,” for instance, we see that what this pandemic crisis essentially needs are national politicians acting firmly, once and for all, in the country’s overall interests.

Still clinging to parochial interests, like salivating for a big share of public works projects, that does not do anything worthwhile for everyone’s future welfare borders on criminal intent to do harm.

Email: [email protected]

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Lessons from Northern Mindanao

Governor Emano’s immediate action, having declared a state of calamity even as early as January this year, has helped control the number of cases in the province.

Harry Roque

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Iligan City in Northern Mindanao and Lanao del Sur in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) are the only two areas that are currently under the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) because of rising cases of COVID-19.

This makes the neighboring city of Cagayan de Oro (CdO) a hub for patients seeking treatment in the city’s designated COVID-19 referral facility — the Northern Mindanao Medical Center, and in other medical facilities in the city. CdO also has several licensed COVID-19 testing laboratories, which is why many patients from neighboring provinces and cities come to CdO not only for treatment but also for their COVID-19 testing-related needs.

Last Monday, I and my team visited CdO where we conducted my regular press briefing. CdO City Mayor Oscar Moreno informed us that the city still has available isolation facilities that are being used particularly for the temporary quarantine of repatriated overseas Filipinos (ROF) and locally stranded individuals (LSI).

In controlling the spread of the virus, Mayor Oscar Moreno emphasized the need to strictly follow the minimum public health standards and the importance of local government unit (LGU) interventions like containment of local cases and the enforcement of proper quarantine measures for ROF and LSI.

The city’s protocol on ROF and LSI is commendable as these returning individuals are fetched from the airport or seaport by the LGU and health authorities and are immediately brought to isolation facilities for swabbing and temporary quarantine while they await the result of their PCR tests.

The city government of CdO has also ramped up its testing capacity with the purchase of RT-PCR machines for the use of some of its medical facilities. With improved testing, Mayor Moreno said they are hoping to serve not just the people from the region but also from the neighboring regions of BARMM and CARAGA — a truly admirable case of neighbors helping neighbors to beat the pandemic.

Misamis Oriental Governor Bambi Emano, who was also my guest in the said press briefing in CdO, highlighted the importance of working closely with local chief executives especially in implementing strict protocols in choke points to protect borders and the people of Misamis Oriental.

On the part of the provincial government, Governor Emano’s immediate action, having declared a state of calamity even as early as January this year, has helped control the number of cases in the province. This has also allowed them to gradually build their critical care capacity, with isolation facilities established in municipalities and barangays all over the province.

In the case of Iligan City, it is admirable that Mayor Celso Regencia has appealed to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to escalate his city’s quarantine classification to control the rising number of cases. Mayor Regencia said that the current MECQ classification is already helping lower the number of COVID-19 cases in the city.

Similarly, Iligan City is also ramping up its isolation capacity by renting local hotels as temporary quarantine facilities and adding isolation facilities with the assistance of the national government through the Department of Public Works and Highways.

From what I had seen personally, the people in Northern Mindanao are showing resiliency in facing and dealing with the pandemic. They are not taking the COVID-19 situation idly, and definitely not letting it hinder their way of living. They are being careful and are clearly practicing what I have always been saying, ingat buhay para sa hanapbuhay.

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May pera ako (1)

By offering PERA through a digital platform, Contributors can now browse different PERA investment products, access and monitor their accounts and settle their transactions through online banking.

Dean Nilo Divina

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The new normal presented prospects for an expedited transition to everything digital. In seizing this opportunity, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) recently announced that it is revolutionizing the Personal Equity and Retirement Account (PERA) by launching Digital PERA.

PERA is a voluntary retirement account established by and for the exclusive use and benefit of the Contributor for the purpose of being invested solely in PERA investment products. It is different from the retirement benefits which employees receive from the SSS or GSIS. Essentially, PERA means forced savings that is withdrawable upon retirement.

In 2008, PERA was established pursuant to Republic Act 9505. However, it was only in 2016 that the law was actually implemented. Even then, it did not gain sufficient traction and received limited contributions. Thus, this year, BSP decided to revive the program to educate and encourage more Filipinos to save for their future. With all its promising features, PERA remained an under-utilized retirement fund-building vehicle.

Anyone who has a Philippine Tax Identification Number (TIN), whether employed or self-employed, is qualified to open a PERA investment. To open an account, a Contributor must first choose an administrator who shall oversee the account. In order to diversify, PERA allows a Contributor to invest in different investment products by opening up to five accounts.

The PERA Law particularly recognizes the plight of overseas Filipino workers (OFW). As we know, it is common for OFW to remit all their hard-earned money to their families in the Philippines, leaving them with less than what they need while abroad. Because of this, OFW are allowed a greater maximum contribution at P200,000 or double a local-based Filipino may contribute annually. Meanwhile, a married person may contribute up to P100,000 per year. Hence, a married couple can contribute P200,000.

The IRR of the law clarifies that a person who intends to contribute beyond these maximum amounts may do so. However, the amounts in excess of the P100,000 or 200,000 in case of OFW, are no longer entitled to a tax credit. Likewise, the investment income made therefrom is no longer exempt from tax.

By offering PERA through a digital platform, Contributors can now browse different PERA investment products, access and monitor their accounts and settle their transactions through online banking. PERA products cover unit investment bust fund, mutual fund, entity contract, insurance pension products, pre-need pension plan, shares of stock and other securities listed and traded in a local exchange, exchange-traded bonds, among others.

The entities which may apply with the concerned regulatory authority for pre-qualification as administrator include banks, trust entities, investment company advisers, security brokers, investment houses including those with quasi-banking license, insurance companies, insurance brokers and other entities as may be determined by the regulatory authority.

The administrator, who must be accredited by the Bureau of Internal Revenue, is tasked to report on the contributions made to the account, compute the values of investments, educate the Contributor, enforce PERA contributions and withdrawal limits, collect appropriate taxes and penalties for the government, and secure BIR Tax Credit Certificates for the Contributor. It also has the duty to consolidate report on all investments, income, expenses, and withdrawals on the account. Most importantly, the administrator must ensure that the contributions are invested properly and within the prudential guidelines set by the regulators.

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