Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Editorial: If Dr. Jose Gonzales is not (yet) the Director of the Philippine General Hospital, then neither is Dr. Enrique Domingo. Then who should it be?

Even as this editorial is being written, reports streaming in from the field indicate that there is now a standoff today at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) Philippine General Hospital (PGH) with two directors attempting to occupy the same physical office. Members of the All U.P. Workers Union, students and doctors are providing peaceful passive resistance and protection to ousted PGH Director Dr. Jose Gonzales, who continues to occupy the Director's office, while Dr. Eric Domingo and several security guards opened the director's office without Dr. Gonzales' consent.

Who has the legal rights to occupy the office? This question must be answered decisively and in such a manner that there are no questions about the integrity of the selection process itself.

Ironically, it is the bumbling but arrogant bureaucrats from the University Administration ensconced in Quezon Hall in U.P. Diliman who appear to be the chief instigators of a crisis that nobody wanted in the first place. Even as the University Administration-dominated Board of Regents voted to remove the Student Regent Charisse Bañez on February 25, 2010 on grounds that her credentials were expired, three of the Malacañang-appointed regents themselves had expired papers. Talk about hypocrisy. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Talk about the sheer incompetence of the Administration of U.P. President Emerlinda Roman and its inability to track and renew their own regents' papers after the one-year legal period had lasped after their original acting appointments in 2008.

The U.P. Administration adamantly insisted on a legally questionable two-year rule interpretation saying it applied to the acting appointments of Regents Francis Chua, Nelia Gonzales and Abraham Sarmiento in 2008. But it was the same U.P. Administration that also applied to the Office of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for a renewal of terms of the same regents last March 2010, for even those regents whose terms would not have been deemed expired under a two-year interpretation; which shows that even they did not have a faith in their own spurious arguments.

On February 25, 2010, Six regents - namely Commission on Higher Education and Development (CHED) Chairman Emmanuel Angeles, U.P. President Emerlinda Roman, Rep. Cynthia Villar and Malacanang Regents Chua, Gonzales and Sarmiento voted to oust Student Regent Bañez as a regent on the grounds that she was no longer a student and thus no longer a Student Regent.

To be more detailed about it, out of a total of eleven regents, the other five did not participate in the voting for the following reasons:

1) One regent, Senator Mar Roxas, was already on the campaign trail, and could not participate in the voting on that day, as he was campaigning for Vice-President under the Liberal Party.

2) Student Regent Charisse Bañez was not allowed to attend the BOR meeting, not even as an observer.

3) Alumni Regent Alfredo Pascual was not physically present in the board room when the voting took place.

4) Staff Regent Clodualdo "Buboy" Cabrera abstained from voting.

5) Faculty Regent Judy M. Taguiwalo abstained from voting.

The remaining six regents voted anyway to remove Student Regent Bañez and had a new round of votes to choose a new director of the PGH under the argument that the duly selected director, Dr. Jose Gonzales only had five votes when the round of votes took place on December 18, 2009, and not six votes, as the Student Regent's vote was void. As a result, Dr. Enrique Domingo was chosen as the new PGH Director.

However, the Diliman Diary has been able to do a comparison of the 2008 appointment papers of Regents Chua, Gonzales and Sarmiento and compared and contrasted them with the appointment papers of these same regents in 2010 (see Diliman Diary, March 23, 2010:

Based on a one-year tenure argument for an acting regent which the Diliman Diary subscribes to, the following problems emerge with respect to the ouster of Student Regent Bañez:

1) Regent Chua's papers had expired on January 1, 2009 or more than a full year before he voted to remove Student Regent Banez on February 25, 2010 for having expired papers.

2) Regent Sarmiento's papers had also expired on September 29, 2009 and was also not a regent when he voted to remove Student Regent Bañez on February 25, 2010.

3) Regent Gonzales also had expired papers which expired on March 18, 2009 and was therefore not a regent when she voted to remove Student Regent Bañez on February 25, 2010.

Thus, out of the six regents who voted to remove Student Regent Bañez and install Dr. Domingo as the new Director of PGH, only three had the legitimate right to vote: Chairman Angeles, President Roman and Rep. Villar. There was therefore no majority vote to remove the Student Regent and Dr. Gonzales. There was also no majority vote to select Dr. Domingo.

However, if the U.P. Adminisration still adamantly insists that the three Malacañang regents enjoyed two year terms, and if for the sake of dicussion, we adopt their point of view, then there was still no majority vote anyway, as Regent Chua's term would have expired on January 1, 2010 under a two-year term; thus depriving the U.P. Administration dominated BOR of a single vote, resulting in five votes cast out of eleven which is no longer a majority vote.

Under a two-year term argument, Regent Nelia Gonzales' term should have expired on March 18, 2010, but she was appointed by President Arroyo on March 8, 2010 before there was any vacancy. Given that President Arroyo was banned by the Constitution from making any more appointments beginning March 10, 2010, then there now exists a vacancy in the BOR and Regent Gonzales is now not a current but a former regent and she clearly does not have the authority to participate in any future BOR meetings.

Since there was no legitimate majority vote to remove Student Regent Bañez, then she remains - by default - unousted as the Student Regent - unless a legitimate majority of the BOR decides otherwise.

In view of the legal infirmities bedevilling both sides regarding the legitimacies of various regents as well as the growing anger, the outrage in U.P. Manila and the entire U.P. System over what has happened so far and the potential for long-term damage to the reputation of the institution as well as the disruption of services to 500,000 indigent constituents over legitimate concerns that remain unaddressed; we believe that the only solution is for the BOR itself to enter into a new round of voting or a "sudden death" vote choosing between Dr. Gonzales and Dr. Domingo, with both sides agreeing to abide with the outcome. After all, both doctors have actually had the chance to run PGH for more than a month so that recent track record, as well as their previous performances as distinguished doctors elsewhere can be taken into account and seen in a fresh light.  Meantime, so as to put to rest any disputes, the vote by the Board of Regents must be undertaken by regents with updated and legitimate credentials to choose who should be the director of PGH, with both sides abiding with the outcome; and taking into consideration sentiments from the U.P. College of Medicine and U.P. Manila faculties.

Then and only then can we have a credible selection process and we can then all put closure to the longest running dispute ever regarding the Directorship of the PGH, and concentrate on the main task at hand, which is to close ranks behind the glorious PGH doctors and its medical staff and to put into action U.P.'s most famous motto: which is to "Serve the People."

(Chanda Shahani is the editor of the Diliman Diary)

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