By FLORANGEL ROSARIO BRAID
First, the good news. Last Wednesday, President Duterte signed the Universal Healthcare Law which would give all Filipinos equal access to quality and affordable goods and services in healthcare. Although the program was already ongoing during President Benigno Aquino’s administration, it was not comprehensive enough as the government did not have adequate resources to implement the program. The new law expands the PhilHealth Insurance coverage to include free consultations and diagnostic services. Thus all Filipinos, either as direct contributors (those who pay premiums) or indirect contributors such as senior citizens, can avail themselves of healthcare whether preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative care for medical, mental, and emergency health services.
But these much-welcomed developments, including the National Cancer Control Program, establishment of Career Guidance Centers for secondary schools, are negated by controversial policy and administrative decisions such as the Martial Law extension in Mindanao, land conversion over land reform, and the Philippine government’s motion to delist 625 cases of enforced and involuntary disappearances from the records of the United Nations, among others.
Human rights advocates blame the Supreme Court for affirming the legality of this third extension of martial law which they say can foment more violence in the region and can be a prelude for imposing military rule nationwide. While some agree that it could address peace and order issues in Mindanao, the social costs in the form of child abuse, human trafficking, kidnapping, are high. The independence of the Supreme Court which is perceived as a rubber stamp of the Executive is again questioned by opposition and party-list groups who fear that it could become the new “normal.”
While the mandate of the Department of Agrarian Reform is to focus on land reform, the current administration has given orders to accelerate conversion of agricultural lands to residential, industrial, and commercial use.
Relatives of missing victims cry for justice saying that human rights abuses would worsen if the UN delists those who had disappeared. Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, said that the government would want to erase from our collective historical memory the mark of the victims of authoritarianism and repression.
Even the new rice tariffication law which is expected to lower the price of rice has been opposed by farmers and their advocates who believe that it would not improve the productivity of local farmers or lower the price of rice, as the latter is determined by global prices that depend on the production conditions of exporting countries.
Too, the Social Security System Rationalization Act which allows the SSS to expand its investing capacity and generate more revenue for members and pensioners is now under scrutiny. Recent audits have shown billions in uncollected premiums which, oppositionists say, must first be collected before raising contributions.
Then, without much fanfare, the President recently signed a law creating the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development. The idea of integrating the functions of two housing agencies makes sense, but what price must we pay for creating another layer of bureaucracy? And we hope, that by borrowing the name of an infamous department some 40 years ago, we do not repeat the mistakes it had made.
Furthermore, PDu30 likewise wants to change the name of the country to “Maharlika,” but we pray that he would give up on this idea as it may stir up another controversy.
My e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org