MANILA — A group of health care workers on Tuesday opposed Senate bills that would establish a medical reserve corps to be activated during disasters or emergencies.
Government should instead fill up empty health care positions and strengthen the public health system, said Dr. Edelina dela Paz, chairperson of the Health Alliance for Democracy.
The creation of a medical reserve corps will not address the country's problem of "lack of medical health personnel and the underdevelopment of the public health care system," she said.
"Instead, it will reinforce the government's militarist response to the health problem such as what’s happening now in the failed COVID-19 response under the Inter-Agency Task Force," she said in a Senate health committee hearing.
"This will undermine and further weaken the civilian-led DOH (Department of Health) because the concept of the medical reserve corp is from a military orientation. It gives a militarist response rather than a humanistic response."
She said such a reserve force won't be necessary "if we have enough personnel in our health centers who are there to address the people’s needs anytime, not only during disasters and emergencies," she said.
"There are still a lot of unfilled plantilla positions kaya kulang tayo. Hindi tayo kailangan magbuo pa ng iba, kailangan lang natin punuin pa yung mga may kakulangan."
(We don't need to create another one, we just need to fill the gaps.)
Government should formulate and enforce a national health plan, which Dela Paz said DOH has yet to provide, instead of creating "stop-gap" measures such as a medical reserve corps.
The creation of a medical reserve corps will also divert much-needed funds that could be used to develop the public health care system, she added.
"We, health workers, are deeply committed to our sworn statement to serve and we do not have to be forced to render health services to our fellow Filipinos. We are always ready to provide health services especially during times of disasters and emergencies," she said.
"We just have to strengthen the public health system and make sure we have people out there in the field anytime they are needed."
Senators Christopher "Bong" Go, Pia Cayetano, and Imee Marcos filed separate measures seeking to establish a medical reserve corps.
Under Cayetano's proposed bill, the DOH shall draft guidelines for the recruitment, selection, compensation, and length of service of the corps.
The medical reserve corps under the Marcos' measure, meanwhile, is composed of volunteer health care providers. Go's bill allows persons who have degrees in the field of medicine and related fields who have yet to receive their license.
The group also has "strong reservations" on proposed digital health bills as strengthening the public health system should be prioritized, according to Dela Paz.
"Before we embark on very expensive e-health interventions let’s look at the basics first," she said.
"If we strengthen our public health system, we employ more doctors and nurses and provide better health facilities in all areas… then face-to-face interaction, a real doctor-patient relationship will be enhanced and established."
Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, meantime, said the creation of a reserve force was only to reinforce health personnel in the event of emergencies and would not replace the health care system.
"Masyado silang allergic d'yan sa reserve force na 'yan... Kahit ang first world countries nagkakandarapa pa rin sa nangyayari. Ito’y additional lang. Augmentation ito in case may mangyari ulit na ganito kalaking pandemya," he said.
(They're too allergic on creating this reserve force... Even first world countries are stumbling in the face of the pandemic, this is only an addition. It's just augmentation in case of another huge pandemic.)
In August, the DOH said it would hire more health workers as virus epicenter Metro Manila was reverted to a modified lockdown to give medical frontliners a breather.
Health Sceretary Francisco Duque also appealed to the "sense of patriotism" of Filipino healthworkers who would like to leave the country for better opportunities abroad.
The Philippines as of Monday reported that 8,949 medical frontliners have contracted the coronavirus, with 56 deaths and 7,710 recoveries.
The country has so far tallied 265,888 cases of COVID-19, with 207,504 recoveries and 4,630 deaths as of Monday.