Don’t shoot the messengers, doc

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WE HAVE always observed and maintained protocols in reporting stories at the Varsitarian. If we had not, we would not have lasted that long for almost a century.

As UST’s official student paper, it reports on all things UST–from decisions made by the administration to the undertakings of student life in the campus including the sentiments of students–as it is no less than a paper by and for the Thomasians. The ‘V’ is an editorially and fiscally independent student newspaper. Its stories are not screened by UST officials before they are published and they are not censored too.

Thus it comes as a surprise for the medical director of the UST Hospital, Dr. Marcellus Ramirez, to “remind” us to be “more prudent and responsible” in what he alleged as one-sided stories when the ‘V’ reported of a notice of strike filed by the employees’ union of the USTH, and of the sentiments of employees in the hospital.

READUST Hospital’s official statement on labor dispute with union

Perhaps Ramirez is ignorant of the fact that we have sought for an interview with him regarding the issue. This can be attested by the receiving copies of our letters seeking his comment on the matter. That, or he has intentionally evaded addressing the issue, believing that by not giving oxygen to the problem, it will come to see a quiet death eventually–as is the case, it seems, with other University offices when they are put in a bad light.

His ignoring the request for an interview is therefore not a reason for us to withhold the publication of our reports. Further, it is always in shrugging it off that fuels speculations and comments than setting things straight for the record.

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“In the past few weeks, the USTH has been severely and unjustly maligned, defamed and criticized in several news articles and social media, including a press conference, over the alleged unfair labor practices committed against its employees, more specifically, the nurses,” Ramirez stated in his letter last March 21.

Certainly, the medical director could have spared himself and the institution he is leading a great deal of criticism if only he had responded to request for interviews or even issued a statement earlier. But instead, such had to be made only after they have been put in the spotlight.

In adherence to the principle of fairness, the ‘V’ has always indicated in the stories we ran on the labor dispute in the hospital that USTH administrators have not commented on the issue despite its attempts to do so. This is to state that we have tried getting their side of the story.

It is unbelievable that this has to be explained, as though getting all sides of the story is not something that should already be expected.

Is the ‘V’ free from error? It is not. But as a matter of fact, the ‘V’ has reported on labor disputes at the UST Faculty Union over the years, and we have always sought the side of the administration. Even when at times we never got the answers to our questions, we have always made sure that they were reached, and that we tell our readers that we did so, all in the spirit of transparency.

To add to that, on the story titled “OVERWORKED, UNDERPAID: Nurses hit UST Hospital’s ‘unjust’ labor practices” which ran on the Varsitarian’s website on Feb. 20, the sources who agreed to speak to us on the condition of anonymity are people credible enough to speak on the matter because they are representatives of hospital nurses and not just those who were randomly selected or asked to be interviewed.

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How would Ramirez then, downplay the 399 members of the USTH employees’ union who voted “Yes” to a strike, compared to only seven who voted against it?

It makes one think of where Ramirez got his remarks that we are publishing one-sided stories. Even if he has stated in his letter that the issue is now being handled in the “proper legal forum,” it does not mean that we should cease reporting on the issue.

Further, while we recognize that the hospital is a health-care facility, it is appalling for the medical director to use the argument that patients will suffer should the impending strike push through, for that is something already given.

But surely, nurses had this in mind already–for they have spent years learning not only how to do their job but also its importance. For him to use the sake of patients as bait to discourage any efforts of a strike is to say that he thinks so ill of his nurses that they would go on strike and not think of the condition of their patients. One cannot discredit, however, that Filipino nurses are known as the most caring ones in the world. And for them to actually file a strike notice would, therefore, only mean to say that they have been filled to the brim and pushed to the wall.

“Thus in no way should the employees of the hospital compromise the health, safety, and the lives of the patients of the hospital in their quest for increase in salaries and more benefits. It must be remembered that “the loss of one life or even the compromise of care of any single patient can never be justified by any financial gain,” Ramirez added in his letter.

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But what financial gain is he saying? His employees are not demanding luxury. They only demand that they are paid for the extra work that they do, and that the working conditions in the hospital be improved.

The Varsitarian, being a Catholic student paper, abides and espouses the social teachings of the Church. As it is written in the encyclical “Rerum Novarum” of Pope Leo XIII, the employer should “not look upon their work people as their bondsmen, but to respect in every man his dignity as a person ennobled by Christian character,” and “to misuse men as though they were things in the pursuit of gain, or to value them solely for their physical powers – that is truly shameful and inhuman.”

We are not lecturing Ramirez on how to save lives. We only tell what has to be told: that employees under him are relaying actual concerns in their working conditions. For him to shoot the messenger and blame it on the campus press is to do harm. Sadly, I thought those in his profession are not supposed to do so.

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