“Our society is sick, our politics corrupt.”
Yesterday, November 29, we saw the mass action organized by the Nurses United Party-List in front of the Commission on Elections office in Intramuros “to urge the government agency to approve their party-list who legitimately represents the marginalized sector of nurses and health workers in Congress and health advocates for the people.” Earlier, the Comelec’s First Division had dismissed its application for accreditation. This serves as a huge obstacle for them to join the 2022 polls.
Nurses United Party-List is a sectoral regional party-list with members from various cities in the National Capital Region. Although they are seeking registration to represent only a small part of the nursing profession, the party-list has placed great weight on nurses representing fellow nurses in Congress—and not merely through a supposed representative or advocate.
Among its legislative agenda should the party-list be accredited, and later elected, are to (1) “[improve] the salaries and benefits of our health workers”; (2) “guarantee access of the ordinary people, marginalized sector to free, comprehensive, quality health services including free and quality safe medicines in the country”; and (3) “ensure that health is really a priority of the government in terms of budgeting, in terms of hiring personnel, without contractualizing”. These reinforce the party-list’s commitment not only to sectoral needs, but also to the wider concerns of healthcare delivery system in the Philippines.
It is a big push for the nurses’ party-list to have the support of senatorial candidate and former party-list representative Neri Colmenares, who now chairs the Makabayan bloc. They also have the support of presidential candidate Mayor Isko Moreno and his running mate Dr. Willie Ong as well as prominent health advocate Dr. Minguita Padilla.
Colmenares characterized the Comelec’s denial as a “big injustice suffered by our pandemic heroes. It disenfranchises the rank and file of our health sector who deserve the best representation in Congress.” “By its action, Comelec has denied [Nurses United] Partylist the opportunity to voice out in Congress our nurses’ demand to increase their entry-level pay in government hospitals to Salary Grade 15. NU has also been ardent in calling for the timely release of hazard pay and other benefits that health workers deserve, especially in fighting the health crisis.”
I am aware of the technical issues related to this application. But documents have been submitted to address the question of representation. I am hoping that the Comelec will now reconsider its decision and do the right thing.
Colmenares reminds us what the party-list system should really stand for. “The party-list system was meant to empower the marginalized and not provide a backdoor to power for traditional politicians and moneyed interests. Given the bastardization of traditional politics, Comelec should ensure that marginalized sectors are genuinely represented in Congress.” He continues: “I urge Comelec to reconsider this decision and let NU Partylist participate in the 2022 Elections. They are legitimate members of the sector and not some fly-by-night group eager for political power. If other preposterous party-lists are allowed to participate, then more so should NU, as the latter are genuine health workers fighting the injustices in the health sector.”
This further supports the state policy provided in Republic Act No. 7941, or the “Party-List System Act”: “The State shall promote proportional representation in the election of representatives to the House of Representatives through a party-list system […], which will enable Filipino citizens belonging to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties, and who lack well-defined political constituencies but who could contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole, to become members of the House of Representatives.”
With this backdrop, I emphasize today, as I have repeatedly called for before, the need for Comelec’s wise judgment and independence. Yes, there is a need to be particularly stringent with party-list accreditations and prevent it from being abused by traditional politicians. The party-list system must be protected and kept functioning, despite repeated calls by certain personalities for its abolition (which would require a constitutional amendment). As we saw the light of the party-list in Makabayan bloc, we should see the same light in Nurses United.
It could not be stressed enough that having a nurses’ party-list is timely and would lead the Congress to a better position. The COVID-19 pandemic placed the working conditions of Philippine healthcare workers under a spotlight: meager and delayed pay and benefits, lack of access to equipment and protection, and absence of institutional representation. Add to that the deployment bans for healthcare workers floated early in the COVID crisis. Reduced health budget in 2022. Who else could best see through the political noise and smoke? No other than our nurses in the frontlines.
Yes, we need nurses to care for Filipinos in hospitals and health centers. We also need nurses to champion Filipino health workers in Congress.
In a broader context, as we remember our national hero Andres Bonifacio today, we recognize that our society is sick, our politics corrupt. We need nurses in Congress to heal that too.
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