Monday, March 1, 2010

OP-ED: The Day of the Long Knives (Part 4): The U.P. Administration's latest choice of Executive Director of U.P PGH may be procedurally flawed and their motives are questionable. But why?

By Chanda Shahani

In what is now known as the Day of the Long Knives in U.P. Diliman, or on February 25, 2010, the U.P. Board of Regents (BOR) turned on its own Student Regent, Charisse Bañez, and University of the Philippines Philippine General Hospital (U.P. PGH) Executive Director Jose Gonzales, finishing them off quickly by removing them from their posts in an act that essentially punished Banez for casting the swing vote that resulted in the selection of Dr. Jose Gonzales as the new Executive Director of PGH in a very close fight with outgoing Executive Director, Dr. Carlos Alfiler. Dr. Gonzales was not the preferred choice of the U.P. Administration, but their motives will become clearer later on.

Last January 22, 2010 however, in an attempt to fight back, Bañez filed an Injunction with prayer for issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order (TRO) in the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch # 215, attempting, in part to have the court bar the BOR from deciding on her case. But Bañez's case opened a can of worms. She claims in her pleadings before the court that at least three “Acting” regents have expired terms, citing a provision of the law that says the term of office is one year for the “Acting” regents. This is disputed by no less than U.P. President Emerlinda R. Roman, who said in an email to Dr. Silvestre Cabellon, the Chairman if the U.P. Medical Society of America (UPMASA), on March 10, 2010 that the term of office for an Acting regent is two years.

There is therefore now a dispute on the interpretation on the word “Acting” as to whether this term of office for an “Acting” regent refers to one year or two years. Perhaps the court itself will make this final determination.

Citing EO 292 (Administrative Code of 1987) the Student Regent states in her complaint that:

“SEC. 16. Power of Appointment. — The President shall exercise the power to appoint such officials as provided for in the Constitution and laws.

SEC. 17. Power to Issue Temporary Designation. — (1) The President may temporarily designate an officer already in the government service or any other competent person to perform the functions of an office in the executive branch, appointment to which is vested in him by law, when: (a) the officer regularly appointed to the office is unable to perform his duties by reason of illness, absence or any other cause; or (b) there exists a vacancy;


(3) In no case shall a temporary designation exceed one (1) year.”

The U.P. Legal Department is possibly prepared to back up its claim (in court) that “Acting” means two years, and not one year in the case of a U.P. Regent

What is indisputable, however, is that Dr. Roman herself says that the term of office of “Acting” regents is two years and not a day longer than that.

If we assume the correctness of the claim of the Student Regent in her complaint that:

1) Regent Sarmiento was appointed by President Arroyo as an “ACTING MEMBER, BOARD OF REGENTS, UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES SYSTEM” on September 29, 2008.

2) Regent Gonzalez was appointed by President Arroyo as an “ACTING MEMBER, BOARD OF REGENTS, UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES SYSTEM” on March 18, 2008.


3) Regent Chua was appointed by President Arroyo as an “ACTING MEMBER, BOARD OF REGENTS, UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES SYSTEM” on January 1, 2008,

Then, assuming all of the above dates of appointment by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo are factually correct, and assuming for the sake of discussion that President Roman's assertion that “Acting” Regents have two year terms is correct or even ruled upon favourably by the courts, then:

1) Regent Chua's term of office as an Acting Regent expired last January 1, 2010, since he was appointed on January 1, 2008;

2) Regent Gonzales' term of office as an Acting Regent will expire a few days from now, or on March 18, 2010, since she was appointed on March 18, 2008;

3) Regent Sarmiento's term of office as an Acting Regent will expire on September 29, 2010, since he was appointed on September 29, 2010

If the next BOR meeting takes place on March 29, 2010, as has been scheduled, then both Regents Gonzales and Chua will be former Regents, alongside Student Regent Banez, because they would have all been casualties of having expired credentials. This is a cause for concern, unless President Arroyo reappoints them before the two month election ban for the President to appoint officials kicks in on March 10, 2010, which then solves the problem for the U.P. Administration. It being March 1, 2010 as I write this, the U.P. Administration has exactly six working days to get Presdient Arroyo to sign the papers of the Regents.

On the other hand, if the Student Regent's assertion that the one year rule is correct, and if the Court decides in her favour (next Court hearing is March 17), then it would be kind of academic already, if President Arroyo already signed the papers. Given the fact that the average court case in this country takes eight years to be resolved. Its already almost academic already, given the fact that the natural term of the Student Regent would expire this April, assuming she was enrolled.

However, if the Student Regent is legally correct in her assertion that the one year rule applies to all three Regents, then even Regent Sarmiento will join his colleagues in terms of having expired credentials. The argument applied to the case of the Student Regent – that is, that her vote was null and void due to her expired credentials may equally be applied to that of the three “Acting” Regents who may also have had expired credentials when they voted for Dr. Alfiler on December 18, 2009, and when they claim to have had a quorum on January 29, 2010.

Equally, when they state that six Regents voted for Dr. Enrique Domingo, on February 25, 2010 with three abstaining; it may be interpreted that three Regents voted for Dr. Domingo, three abstained and three “Acting” Regents with expired terms should have been shown the door, to join the Student Regent. This is assuming, of course that the one year rule applied in this case. If the one year rule applied in this case, then we cannot see how Dr. Domingo is the duly selected Executive Director of PGH when he only got three votes out of a possible total of ten votes.

A protest could be lodged by some Regents before the March 29 BOR meeting to ensure that consistent treatment applies to all, and not just the Student Regent. It's entirely up to them to do so.

What is is absolutely necessary and critical that a legitimate round of voting amongst the BOR take place where all concerned have the proper credentials and right to be there to prevent endless litigation that will only serve to tie the hands and feet of our premier government hospital, where there is already an existing disruption of programs and plans, and a revolving door of executive directors, as is starting to be the case. The hard-working and heroic doctors and medical staff of PGH, and the thousands of disadvantaged people they serve deserve the best possible democratic and principled decision in the U.P. Board of Regents' choice of an Executive Director. The U.P. BOR must defend the integrity of the University of the Philippines and show that it is made of the right stuff, with the People's welfare in mind, and show that it does not only excel in corporate-style board room manuevers and legal technicalities to get its way in the end and at our expense – the taxpayer's expense.

Side by side with the need to ensure that all decisions made by the BOR are in the interests of the people, especially the disadvantaged patients who still come from a delographic that constitutes the majority of our population; a closer look must really be made on the claim of members of the Laban UP-PGH Movement who said that Executive Director Jose Gonzales was ousted since he was not clear about where his loyalties lay in the “disadvantageous deal made between UP's BOR and the Daniel Mercado Medical Center that would soon operate a private laboratory, diagnostics, pharmacy and outpatient clinic within PGH itself.”

"He (Gonzales) has been singled out as the main stumbling block to the estimated hundreds of millions of pesos in profit that is grossly slanted to favor only a non-PGH entity," said Laban UP-PGH.

If only to protect the U.P.'s reputation, then the BOR needs to show that the charges of Laban UP-PGH are unfounded and that there is absolutely no causality or correlation between what Laban UP-PGH claims or what the U.P. Diliman Student Council calls “the micro-privatization of PGH” and the removal of Student Regent Charisse Banez because of her “inconvenient” vote in favour of Dr. Gonzales who was himself not clearly in favour of the U.P. BOR-backed deal with the Daniel Mercado Medical Center. It can only do this by ensuring that there was a truly democratic vote by a quorum of regents who have the proper credentials, backed up by the courts, so that busy bodies like the Diliman Diary will not ask so many questions. We truly wonder: Why is the U.P. Administration is moving heaven and earth to remove Dr. Gonzales, given his professional qualifications and the fact that so many of his medical colleagues were prepared to demonstrate against his removal today, March 1, 2010 at the U.P. PGH?

We may never know the answers.

What we do know, however, is stated in the website itself of the Daniel Mercado Medical Center at: which admits that:

“After three (3) years and nine (9) months of bidding and negotiations, the UP-PGH Faculty Medical Arts Building (FMAB) Project finally became a reality. On June 18, 2009, in celebration of the 101st anniversary of the University of the Philippines (UP), the contract for the UP-PGH FMAB Project was signed by UP President Emerlinda Roman and Dr. Edwin Mercado, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Daniel Mercado Medical Center (DMMC). The historic ceremony was witnessed by UP Regents Abraham Sarmiento and Nelia Gonzalez, UP Manila Chancellor Ramon Arcadio, PGH Director Carmelo Alfiler and other System-Wide, UP Manila and PGH officials. The DMMC Board of Directors was also in attendance led by its Chairman, Mr. Zosimo Malabanan, as well as top management officials from DMMC.”

“The UP Board of Regents, during its 1239th meeting on December 17, 2008, confirmed the awarding of the Project to DMMC. The recommendation was submitted to the BOR by Dr. Yolanda Robles, Chair of the Special Bids and Awards Committee for the UP-PGH FMAB Project, after DMMC complied with all the requirements of the bidding process. The Notice of Award (NOA), signed by UP President Emerlinda Roman last February 5, was received by Dr. Mercado on February 17, 2009.”

“The UP-PGH FMAB project is a pioneering activity of the University designed as a retention and incentive program for the faculty members of UP Manila (UPM), as a source of additional income for PGH’s budget, a venue for the geographic practice of profession among faculty members of UPM, an accessible and affordable ambulatory facility for private patients and to strengthen the distinction of UPM and PGH as the National Health Sciences Center and as the National University Hospital, respectively.”

“The contract entails the lease with conversion, rehabilitation, development and operation of the PGH Dispensary Building as the UP-PGH FMAB for a period of 25 years. DMMC is given an 18-month rent-free construction period starting from the time of contract signing. Under the Terms of Reference, DMMC shall lease the building from UP-PGH and sub-lease the clinic spaces to accredited PGH consultants. There is no need for the consultant to buy stocks to practice or buy/advance lease of clinic. DMMC is responsible for the fiscal and non-medical operations of FMAB and is allowed to manage and operate the concession areas which include the following: Laboratory, Radiology, Pharmacy among others.”

We do not know what correlation there was – if any – between the action that occurred on the infamous Day of the Long Knives on January 25, 2010 when the U.P. Board of Regents turned on its own Student Regent, and removed her, on an easily correctible technicality, after she cast a critical swing vote on December 18, 2009 (By 6 to 5) giving Dr. Gonzales the nod as Executive Director of PGH over Dr. Alfiler, who would have served two three-year terms by December 31, 2009.

With the Student Regent out of the way, we also do not know what correlation there was – if any – between the removal of the Student Regent on that infamous Day of the Long Knives on January 25, 2010 when the U.P. Board of Regents turned on its own duly selected Executive Director, Dr. Carlos Gonzales whose short term from January 4, 2010 to February 25, 2010 never straddled the signing of the contract between the PGH and the Daniel Mercado Medical Center. We may never know.

Even with millions of pesos worth of a lucrative multi-year contract at stake; we still do not know if there was any correlation between the high stakes money involved and the amount of effort expended by the U.P. Administration to remove a sitting Student Regent with expired papers; reverse a decision selecting a preeminently qualified doctor to head the PGH who has had more experience and replacing him with somebody who may be good, but with much less experience; and oh – yeah – after figuratively disemboweling the Student Regent; expends even more effort in justifying the retention of three “Acting” regents, with credentials whose shelf lives have either expired or are about to expire, depending on how you look at it.

We do not know if all or any of these seemingly random acts have anything to do with the bottom line.

We leave it up to you, dear reader.

To connect the dots.

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