SUN.STAR Cebu columnist Juan Mercado and his wife have made it their annual Christmas ritual to visit the Cebu City Medical Center (CCMC). And those visits always inspire the veteran journalist to write some of the most heart-tugging eye-opener columns one can read in this paper. Nothing comparable, really, with tragic scenes viewed close.

I remembered Mercado’s Dec. 27, 2009 column titled “Needed Sign” while reading in the papers recent developments in CCMC.

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“In Christmas 2007,” Mercado wrote, “we chanced upon an almost totally blind girl, singing to herself. She was all of five---too young to sing ‘of old unhappy far off things and battles long ago.’ Early treatment could have saved her sight, the emaciated mother explained.” After reading that part, I stopped for a moment. But there was more.

“Christmas last year saw half of Bed 19 occupied by a skin-and-bones child,” the veteran journalist continued. “Her mother had P20. But the hospital pharmacy is perennially short of drugs.

The other half of Bed 8 had a four-year-old, down with pneumonia. His jobless father couldn’t afford a single vial of antibiotics.”

Mercado could have perhaps gone on and on. With the manner the Cebu City Government has been handling (or is it mishandling) CCMC, tragic tales can be mined there by the hundreds---tiny pin-pricks to the heart for those who care but nothing more than passing fancy for people, especially officials, who have lost their humanity.

That’s why one can find consolation in even the tiniest change of attitude in City Hall officials with regards to the hospital, even if it is suspect. Mayor Tomas Osmeña, he who raved and ranted in the past several months against CCMC and talked about selling it to private entities, is suddenly interested in straightening out the facility’s organization.

How hard was the mayor on CCMC before? Very. I even remember likening him to a child who pushed aside a plate of food he didn’t like, especially when it became obvious that public opinion preferred City Hall to improve CCMC services instead of discarding the facility. He then turned over the CCMC “problem” to Vice Mayor Michael Rama.

I know, I know. Miracles do not happen often, so it is not as if a bolt of lightning from the heavens struck the mayor’s heart and changed its makeup. If you know him, you’ll know what he is doing is perfectly normal. I covered him as a greenhorn reporter in the early ‘90s and can thus predict what he will do in an election year: act humane.

But beggars can’t be choosers. Those who will be benefited by the mayor’s change of heart re: CCMC, may have to consider this as a crumb that can momentarily stop the grumbling of a stomach hungry for basic services from cash-strapped City Hall. The poor CCMC patients, are as they say, mabaw ra og kalipay.

In 2002, my brother-in-law was admitted at CCMC and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After his operation (for which the doctor sought additional payment), it was found out that his lungs were also problematic. He never regained consciousness after the surgery in his skull and died days later.

As a journalist, I had questions in the manner my brother-in-law was treated. But that was drowned by the view that at least, with such an “expensive-to-treat” illness and our lack of resources, he got some medical attention. I don’t know if present City officials even understand the ramifications of such a view.

( my blog: