FEW politicians possess the expertise to run public hospitals. The better ones, the ones who have the hospital’s health in mind, can choose to step aside and let a board of qualified professionals run things, with the local government’s support but with as little intervention from it as possible.
In 2014, when Cebu City was still recovering from the effects of a quake and a super typhoon the year before, then mayor Michael Rama went to the United States to raise funds for a new hospital. When he returned, he said that some P900 million in pledges had been made. Raising funds from the private sector did not seem farfetched, especially after those twin calamities, when people seemed eager to give.
It now appears, however, that none of those pledges has materialized. And now Atty. Rama doesn’t want to name the sources of those pledges, although these had been reported by SunStar Cebu, among others, back in 2014.
Can the City still collect those pledges? That’s unlikely. One can argue that those pledges were made to the City of Cebu, to its constituents in need of affordable hospital care, and not to Rama personally. But who wants to wade into a politically charged situation such as this? In hindsight, it might have been more prudent to let a less politicized figure—a group of civic leaders and private foundation representatives, for instance—gather these pledges for the City’s hospital.
In the last 25 years since the management of most public hospitals went from the national to the local governments, the more successful cases involved local governments whose governors or mayors recognized they had neither the expertise nor the experience to run hospitals well. So they reformed their governance structures, placing the responsibility for the hospital’s strategic direction, financing, and development to a board of trustees chosen for their experience and expertise.
Cebu City is one of the local governments that ended up taking charge of both village health centers and a large public hospital. The need for such a hospital was so pronounced that, for years, it operated beyond capacity. When the City demolished the Cebu City Medical Center after the calamities of 2013, it took a huge risk. Could it build a new and better hospital fast enough? As the person in charge when that risk was taken, Atty. Rama needs to rethink his decision to keep the sources of those pledges a secret. The public needs to know why, among others, those overseas pledges have not been delivered.