Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 9 January 2016

There are very few people that I hold in awe. Letty J. Magsanoc was one of them. We were not close—you can’t get close to someone of whom you are in awe.

Why did I hold her in such high esteem? Because to me she represented journalism at its best. She epitomized the “fearless” in this paper’s motto: balanced news, fearless views. She wasn’t afraid of the powerful, the wealthy, the elite—they were all fair game to her, as attested to by the many exposés of the Inquirer. If she could take on presidents (as in Erap Estrada at his most powerful), and win, she could take on anyone. She was one of a kind.

Of course she knew the limits, but they were few and far between. And because of that, she was a great “pader”—the newspaper owners could credibly point to her as having the last word on editorial policy, and knowing her, anyone who wanted to influence that policy would just have to grin and bear it.

A mutual friend called her management style a combination of authoritarianism and motherly compassion. And that’s how she could get away with the irreverence she showed to the powers that be.

Her loss is actually not just the Inquirer’s loss, but the news industry’s loss, and the country’s loss.

Letty, you are missed. And more so now, when the country is at a crossroads. Wish you were still here to help inform our decisions.

* * *

It happens right under our noses, and we don’t even know about it. Remember the public-private partnerships? They’ve been given a hard time, and rightly so, because their progress has been lethargic, and the local private partners seem to be using the scheme as a way to increase their control of the economy, at great profit to themselves. Well, there is one PPP in the Philippines that doesn’t fall under that description, and in fact was recognized in 2014 as one of the 40 best PPPs in the world.

That is the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) Hemodialysis Project, which was among the top 10 projects in the East Asia, Pacific and South Asia region. Who did the recognition? The World Bank Group, the International Finance Corporation, and the Infrastructure Journal. For what was this project recognized? It was recognized for being financially successful, technologically innovative, developmental, and a model for similar health projects in the Philippines.

“Hemodialysis” is the medical term for kidney dialysis. And the NKTI Hemodialysis Center’s impact and relevance to the needs of the populace, and the huge number of patients with kidney failure who have benefited from the project, are a milestone for the country. It is the best hemodialysis facility in the Philippines today. The facility has a 31-station outpatient unit and a 12-station inpatient unit running 24/7, accommodating more than 120 hemodialysis patients per day. Its success has led to the project continuing, through competitive bidding, from 2003 until today.

That’s not all I found out about the NKTI. According to a report from the Collaborative Transplant Study, a global registry for organ transplantation based in the University of Heidelberg in Germany, Manila ranks No. 5 in terms of number of kidney grafts performed among 205 transplant centers around the world, with the NKTI as the only reporting center for Manila (the other countries have as many as eight transplant sites or eight transplant hospitals). That has to be notable. What about equipment and technology? Apparently, the NKTI’s equipment compares with the best in the world.

And where does it get the resources it needs to maintain its three-fold mission of service (a 315-bed hospital, soon to be 320, also state-of-the-art), training and research? That’s another amazing thing. It is first of all a government corporation, so it can operate like a business. The government subsidy in 2014 amounted to only P229 million; the NKTI gets the rest from hospital income (P2.4 billion). And yet its charges are much less than a private hospital (for example: Dialysis in the latter might cost P60,000; in NKTI it would come up to P35,000).

Moreover, its quantified free services (to senior citizens, persons with disability, government employees, charity) are subsidized by the government to the tune of 43 centavos for every peso of QFS. The NKTI’s internally generated revenue from private patients takes care of the other 57 centavos.

How many patients are we talking about? Around 15,000 in 2014; of that number, 30 percent were charity cases.

Reader, you have before you a well-run government corporation (almost an oxymoron) that is not a drain on government coffers. Patients who go there are amazed that it is a government hospital: It looks and smells like a first-class private hospital.

But more is yet to come. It graduated this year 40 residents and fellows (part of its training program), who come from all over the Philippines and presumably will go back whence they came. That makes over 600 specialists the NKTI has trained since its inception 32 years ago. And Dr. Dante Dator, the executive director, has a map of the Philippines which shows exactly where those people are now. Serving the Filipino people. Aside from Vietnamese, Nepali, and Indonesians who are now the top in their field abroad.

By the way, the NKTI was headed for years by Enrique Ona, the former health secretary who was so badly treated by the government he served so well. Dator should be considered for the health portfolio by the next president. His management skills are considerable. But please don’t treat him badly.