MANILA, MAY 1, 2007 (STAR) TAKIN' CARE OF BUSINESS By Babe Romualdez - It seems the controversy surrounding the separation of the University of Santo Tomas hospital from the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery refuses to die down, with a number of faculty members and medical alumni alleging that the separation was not done in good faith. In 2004, the UST Board of Trustees declared the hospital a separate entity through a board resolution, which in turn paved the way for the creation of USTH Inc. in 2005, a corporation composed of doctors and corporate lawyers with then UST Rector Fr. Tamerlane Lana as one of the 12 incorporators. Concerned faculty members as well as alumni groups questioned the circumstances by which the incorporation was effected, saying the move effectively transferred ownership of the hospital to private individuals. Likewise, critics alleged the incorporation was done without the mandate of the Dominican Order of Preachers, the religious order which established the university in 1611.

Last month, USTH Inc. obtained a P3-billion 10-year loan syndicate from the Development Bank of the Philippines, Land Bank, Philtrust Bank and DBP Trust Services for its expansion and modernization program. A substantial portion of the loan will go to the construction of a 19-story hospital tower with a helipad and a seven-story hospital services podium. There are also plans to build satellite hospitals outside Manila. The ambitious expansion program includes plans devote four floors of the tower to "international patients" – a move frowned upon by some because it might dislodge local patients. With news that USTH will be positioning itself to compete in the area of medical tourism, concerns were further fueled that the hospital will be focused on profit making rather than on its original intention of becoming a training ground for medical specialists – a tricky issue considering that USTH describes itself as a non-stock, non-profit organization.

There are also claims that the hospital’s charity ward has been reduced, but according to USTH, it currently maintains "460 dedicated beds for charity or clinical patients, sustained by just 352 private patient beds" – a fact which the hospital is using to justify the expansion of its paying division, sources disclosed. Medical students are also wondering if part of their tuition now goes to the hospital instead of the university because of the separation. Amid all the controversies, a US-based medical alumni association had announced it would stop sending donations and funding for any project until the issues surrounding the incorporation are cleared. In a recent letter, Fr. Christophe Holzer, secretary general of the Dominican Order, also wrote that the Master of the Order is "seriously studying" the issues concerning UST hospital.

The University of Santo Tomas is the oldest existing university in Asia, and it has a proud tradition of academic excellence. It counts among its alumni the country’s leaders, heroes and even saints. In 1871, the UST Faculty of Medicine and Surgery was established, and it is known that our national hero Jose Rizal studied here before he went to Madrid. My parents were both doctors educated at the UST, including GMA’s mother, Doña Eva Macaraeg-Macapagal. The medical school has produced distinguished alumni who have devoted their lives in serving others. This controversy must be settled one way or the other.

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Idle power barges

Colombia experienced a nationwide blackout last week, halting stock trading, disrupting businesses, and leaving people trapped inside elevators. Authorities claimed the blackout was due to a technical glitch, and scrambled to put the power back. The blackout was enough to put the country in a state of chaos especially with the traffic lights knocked out, but Colombians have become used to the regular power outages especially with leftist rebels routinely sabotaging transmission lines as part of their campaign to overthrow the government. Recently, parts of Metro Manila and Luzon also experienced rotating blackouts and there’s a big possibility that it could become a regular occurrence. Energy officials claim the blackouts were caused by "technical problems" but their desperate appeal for the public to reduce electric consumption seems to indicate more blackouts especially at this time with the heat literally killing people.

There is an unusually high demand for electricity, and officials need to tap all possible power sources – yet nothing is being done to utilize the four diesel power barges at Manila Bay. The barges were bought by East Asia Power Resources but the company was reportedly forced into rehabilitation last year due to PNB’s impatience for the restructuring plan, freezing some P400 million in bank accounts in October 2006 and distributing the money to other lenders. The power barges can supply 243 MW – more than the 240-MW power demand surge – and could help prevent blackouts that cost companies millions in production losses. Yet these power barges are just standing idly by awaiting the Malabon Regional Trial Court’s decision for rehab, while the people helplessly wait for the next round of blackouts to hit Metro Manila and parts of Luzon.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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