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When gov’t officials are hospitalized

Isn’t the immediate medical treatment of the Cabinet secretary also demanded by public interest?

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The Philippines is currently burdened with an alarming surge in new Covid-19 cases. Medical personnel everywhere are overwhelmed by the sheer number of new and incoming coronavirus cases registered daily.

When it was announced days ago that Press Secretary Herminio “Harry” Roque Jr. contracted Covid-19 and was confined at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), critics of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte questioned how Roque was able to get accommodations at the PGH when many ordinary people are waiting in line in tents outside hospital premises just to get bed space inside.

They weren’t interested in Roque’s state of health, and they didn’t bother to ascertain what intervening events took place before he was admitted to the PGH. It was obvious that they wanted to tell the public that Roque was given special treatment by the government hospital simply because he is a ranking official of the government and, in doing so, embarrass the Duterte administration.

It turned out that it took about four days from the time Secretary Roque reported his Covid-19 affliction to his physicians to the time he was admitted to the PGH. He reported that his doctors learned that his oxygen level had dropped dangerously low, and so he was rushed to the PGH where it so happened that a room was available for his brief use.

Naturally, Roque was hurt by the words that went his way. He had good reason to say it was “unchristian” for his detractors to even ask why he was accommodated at the PGH.
Fortunately, it looks like Secretary Roque is now out of the woods, so to speak, and is safe and sound.

Undoubtedly, Covid-19 in the Philippines has become more menacing than it was last year because of the surge in the number of new cases daily. A microscopic equalizer, Covid-19 can afflict anyone regardless of gender, age, occupation, financial status and nationality.

Consequently, all hospitals are packed, and many patients have to settle for temporary treatment centers, tents and makeshift facilities in hospital grounds, hotels and school buildings.

Under these less-than-ideal circumstances, what constitutes “special treatment” at government hospitals and similar public treatment facilities? Are government officials entitled to preferential attention over others in these places?

If President Duterte contracts Covid-19 and will need to be hospitalized, he will, of course, get preferential attention. As the top leader of the country, the President is needed by the people and his immediate medical treatment is demanded by public interest.

What happens when it isn’t the President, but a Cabinet secretary like Roque who contracts Covid-19? Since a Cabinet secretary is an “alter ego” of the President, shouldn’t the same arrangements for the medical treatment of the President apply to the Cabinet secretary? Isn’t the immediate medical treatment of the Cabinet secretary also demanded by public interest?

Those questions are not easy to answer.

Under ideal circumstances, every patient in a medical facility is entitled to the same attention as other patients. To state the obvious, emergency cases get top priority over every other patient outside of an emergency situation.

Patients who need more attention than other patients must get that preferential attention. The ethical standards governing the medical profession posit that a physician must give preferential attention to a more seriously ill or injured patient over one who is in less danger of dying immediately.

Because good faith is always presumed over bad faith, it should be presumed that when the physicians at the PGH decided to accommodate Secretary Roque at the hospital, they had very good reasons to do so. If, in their professional opinion, Roque needed immediate attention, then all doubts must be resolved in favor of the propriety of the professional medical action taken in the Roque case.

To repeat, the questions raised earlier are not easy to answer, not only now but even in the predictable future. Because we may not have the right answers to those questions, everyone in the country is better off leaving those questions for the medical professionals to answer and, thereafter, act according to their best judgment under these less-than-ideal circumstances the country faces today.

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