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‘They also serve who care and share’

/ 05:12 AM September 17, 2018

“They also serve who care and share” is the motto greeting those who enter the Philippine General Hospital. It clearly calls to mind the John Milton sonnet “When I consider how my light is spent,” and its last line, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Is this clumsy but well-meaning quote a reminder that those who serve the hospital are also doing God’s work? Is it a beseeching invitation to volunteers and donors? It may be both of these things.

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The PGH recently opened its own “Malasakit” center, a “one-stop shop” for Filipinos needing medical assistance from different government agencies. It’s a joint effort of the Department of Health, PhilHealth, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development. In an ideal healthcare setting, such centers wouldn’t be necessary, but in our current circumstances, they could address a real need for indigent patients.

The controversy surrounds the appearance of Special Assistant to the President Bong Go at the inauguration, whose face and slogan were on several tarps and materials, even on the Malasakit health cards. For someone who has denied plans to run for public office, Go appears in a lot of thinly veiled campaign materials, from cell phones to posters.

The ensuing social media rage was quick and loud, with PGH workers and alumni themselves the angriest of all. It’s a clear act of “epal,” an antithesis to the altruistic idea of “they also serve who care and share” — an act fueled by self-interest, and an insult to workers who have been working with little to no compensation to serve the underserved.

It’s also perceived as an insult to the ideals of the University of the Philippines, since the premier state hospital is inextricable from the state university, and is administered and operated by UP. A friend asked, “Is it unreasonable that we hold PGH to a higher standard?” while one responded, “Since PGH is a part of UP, yes! Higher standards!”

That leads one down the rabbit hole of why we put UP and PGH on a pedestal, and what defines UP students and alumni. Certainly, it’s not being the “best,” because even by the standards of our regulatory boards, UP does not have a monopoly on excellence.

What defines UP is not being the most “activist,” since a healthy dose of student activism is shown by other schools as well. For instance, a recent “Tsikahan with Gov. Imee” was called off at the Iloilo Science and Technology University due to student protests, a sharp contrast to the actions of the UP president who was seen as welcoming Imee Marcos at the reunion of the Kabataang Barangay in August.

UP is not the poorest as well; all brackets are well represented. UP does not have the longest and richest history; that honor goes to the University of Santo Tomas. UP does not have the least resources, because many schools and hospitals have equal or less.

Growing up on the stories of a father who was detained and imprisoned for being part of student rallies in the 1980s and who was released as a special “Christmas favor” on the whim of a dictator, I would be the first to take pride in UP as a bastion of moral uprightness, with only the people’s interests at heart — “matatapang, matatalino, walang takot kahit kanino.”

But we are a microcosm of society itself, open to all demographics and beliefs, and, as much as it would displease many of us who believe ourselves to be on the right side of history, this diversity includes Duterte and Marcos supporters, even Bong Go supporters. It includes both the altruistic statesman and the “trapo,” both the selfless worker and the self-interested epal, the dictator and the victims.

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We may not be able to homogenize the politics of every student and alumnus, or keep UP out of campaigning and politics. Everything is political, after all, and healthcare has always been politicized. But we don’t stay silent, and we call out our superiors. UP was the first to call out its president, and PGH’s health workers were the first to call out their administration.

At the end of the day, after all the politicking, and whether on a pedestal or not, all that’s left is to “care and share” for the underserved.

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TAGS: Bong Go, Christopher Go, Hints and Symbols, kay rivera, Malasakit Center, PGH, Philippine General Hospital, University of the Philippines, UP
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