AFTER the May elections, the Capitol’s priorities must include better facilities in Cebu’s district and provincial hospitals, a candidate for vice governor said yesterday.

Dr. Nerissa Soon-Ruiz brought up the challenge of decongesting the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) in Cebu City, “which is now overcrowded because even patients from other regions in the Visayas and Mindanao are there.”

Soon-Ruiz, a former congresswoman and ex-Provincial Board member, is challenging the reelection campaign of Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale.

She and One Cebu’s candidate for governor, lawyer Winston Garcia, led a 20-vehicle caravan around Bantayan Island yesterday.

If she and Garcia are elected, she said, she will be tasked to take charge of the hospitals. These were transferred to the Province’s management as part of the government’s devolution and decentralization efforts, which began in 1992.

Soon-Ruiz said that all district hospitals should be equipped with X-ray and dialysis machines, while provincial hospitals should have ultrasound and CT scan machines.

“The people in the component cities and towns will not anymore come to Cebu City to seek medical treatment if the district and provincial hospitals have complete treatment facilities and medical personnel,” Soon-Ruiz said.

In September last year, the Provincial Health Office (PHO) reported that 12 out of 16 district and provincial hospitals in Cebu Province were reclassified as primary health care facilities.

The health department has urged the Province to meet the requirements, for the hospitals to regain their Level 1 facilities, where emergency surgeries can be performed.

Also proposed was an 18-percent increase in the Province’s budget for district hospitals, to P349 million in 2016 from P297 million last year.

The official campaign period for local candidates will start on March 25, although that coincides with Good Friday, when campaign activities are prohibited.

Ahead of the official campaign, however, various candidates have made the rounds. In yesterday’s Bantayan event, One Cebu handed out fans, posters and ballers in the barangays they passed.

In the morning, the caravan toured barangays in Sta. Fe, followed by Bantayan town in the afternoon and Madridejos until around 7 p.m.

Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia, who served three terms as governor before winning her first term in Congress in 2013, arrived at noon and joined the caravan.

With the Garcias and Soon-Ruiz were Provincial Board (PB) Member Sun Shimura, who is also seeking reelection, and Bantayan Vice Mayor Chad Cañares, who is running for the PB.

In Sta. Fe, motorcycle drivers and One Cebu’s local candidates joined the caravan. The party is fielding Dory Cabrera for mayor and Itamar Espinosa for vice mayor.

After lunch, the caravan proceeded to Bantayan, where they were joined by Mayor Ian Christopher Escario and his candidates for the council. They toured the barangays escorted by a hundred motorcycle-riding supporters.

The candidates braved the heat, riding on top of a dump truck and waving to supporters on the roadside. A small canvas sheet was arranged as a makeshift roof for those campaigning.

Upon reaching the boundary of Madridejos, the candidates transferred to another dump truck. One Cebu’s candidate for mayor, Engr. Romeo Villaceran, joined the ride.

Earlier in the day, some candidates from rival parties shared a boat ride to Bantayan Island.

Spotted aboard the roll-on, roll-off ferry, during its 6:30 a.m. trip, were Shimura and incumbent Bogo City Mayor Celestino “Junie” Martinez Jr. Shimura is allied with One Cebu, while Martinez is being fielded by the Liberal Party for the fourth district’s congressional seat.

They brought their vehicles aboard the ferry, and stayed inside.