The Philippine health budget for 2017 was pegged at PhP90.9 billion, down from 2016’s PhP 122.63 billion. This means that the government is spending an average of only PhP2.39 per day for every person for the country’s 104 million people.

Such low allocations for the public health care system has dire consequences on the well-being of people living in the Philippines. In government institutions like Fabella Hospital, for example, maternity wards are overcrowded, with four to five mothers and their new-born babies sharing only one bed. Other hospital wards are in more or less the same situation. Public health workers are overworked and underpaid, forcing many of them to look for work in private hospitals or overseas, where the pay is better. Facilities are years behind modern health technology. Medicine also doesn’t come cheap, adding to the economic burden of Filipino families, many of whom are poor and earn less than PhP100 per day. In addition, despite pressure from various health rights groups, the government seems keen on continuing the privatization of the last few remaining public hospitals in the country. This will certainly add more burdens to the people, as many with health issues will be forced to go to private hospitals and clinics for medical attention.

In the countryside, there are areas where farmers and indigenous peoples have not seen doctors set foot on their communities for a decade or more. More often than not, there is only public health clinic for every town, if there is one at all. Many people from the rural areas would have to travel far just to get medical attention for themselves or their families or community members.

Public health workers and community health workers also become targets of human rights violations, such as the case of rural doctor Dreyfuss Perlas, who was shot and killed by unknown assailants on 1 March 2017. Another example is the extrajudicial killings of Rosalie Calago and her husband. Calago was a barangay health worker from Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental province while her husband was a barangay kagawad. On 24 May 2015 they were shot by suspected military personnel and then burned inside their home.

The right to health is a basic human right that should be enjoyed by the Filipino people and is an essential part of the right to development. Yet as the situation of the health system in the Philippines continues to worsen, one is led to question the government’s commitment in providing accessible health care for–and upholding the right to health of–the Filipino people.

(Photo: Sonia Narang, 2015)

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