Malilong: Three is better than none at all

The Other Side

I LIVED near the old Cebu City Hospital, an undistinguished building standing on the Mabini-Colon junction, when I came to Cebu in 1967, fresh from high school. I slept and woke up to the sound of a wailing ambulance. Its appearance belied its utility because its faded paint notwithstanding, itwas a busy hospital serving patients who cannot afford the private hospitals.

I expected to be brought there when I got sick during the second semester of my freshman year, but my elder sister would have none of it for reasons that she did not explain. We went to Tojong Hospital instead.

It was not many years later that I learned why. By then the hospital had been relocated to the old South Expressway and renamed the Cebu City Medical Center or the CCMC. But it was its other name that gave away my sister’s reluctance: the Mona Lisa Hospital, not in reference to the da Vinci masterpiece but to the Nat King Cole song, the one that says, “they just lie there and they die there.”

Hounded by allegations of corruption and receiving not enough support from the government, the CCMC became synonymous with poor and inadequate medical service. It was overcrowded (“overwhelmed” was not yet invented then to describe hospital utilization rate) sometimes with as many as three patients taking turns lying in one bed. It had no medicines and other supplies, and the morale of its staff was low.

Probably fed up with reports of unabated corruption in the hospital that prodded then mayor Tomas Osmeña at one time to consider selling it and building strategic satellite hospitals instead. The Cebu City community, however, loudly protested the plan and to his credit, Osmeña listened to them and dropped it.

On Oct. 15, 2013, a powerful earthquake damaged the CCMC. Mayor Michael Rama, who had just won a second term, narrowly beating Osmeña, decided to demolish the building and replace it with a new state-of-the-art facility. An uncooperative city council, however, scuppered his plan so that when he left office in 2016 after being defeated by Osmeña in a rematch, his dream modern edifice was just a shell.

The construction moved little during Osmeña’s watch. In the meantime, the CCMC continued to squat on a building previously used by the Bureau of Fire Protection.

After the Covid-19 pandemic spread to Cebu, Mayor Edgardo Labella asked the city council to allocate P1.5 billion for the completion of the CCMC building. The council, however, approved only P500 million. Labella then announced that he would use P100 million to complete the first three floors to serve only Covid-19 patients from Cebu City. Work was expected to begin soon.

Here now comes Rama saying that the City should not open any part of the building to the public unless all the 10 floors are ready. “Let’s not hurry with the three floors,” SunStar quoted the vice mayor as saying. Operating three floors of the building while work on the other floors is ongoing “does not sound correct,” again according to Rama as quoted by this paper.

Come on, Mike. There is more than enough reason to rush the completion of the first three floors of the CCMC. On the contrary, there is no reason to delay it. We are in a state of emergency. Our hospitals are overwhelmed. The 150 additional beds are a blessing, especially to your poor constituents.

Be like Tommy when he listened to the people and abandoned the idea of selling the CCMC. This modern hospital was your dream. It is going to be your legacy even if it took another mayor to complete it. Three floors. That’s a lot better than none at all.


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