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Scrap P9-B new Senate building construction, build Covid-19 hospitals instead, Wuhan-style

WITH our country — and the world — now in the midst of one of the worst pandemics this century, and with the looming threat of a steep recession, do you know what our Senate has been quietly doing?

It is continuing to build what is a monument to 24 super-egos, the Senate’s new headquarters in the Bonifacio Global City, planned in 2018. The project broke ground March last year and had its first concrete pouring February this year, scheduled to be finished next year. Full speed ahead, I was told, was the Senate’s orders to its contractors. “Anong covid-covid? Tuloy tayo,” a senator reportedly told the contractor.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, when he first proposed the project in 2018, claimed it would cost P5 billion and even issued a press statement claiming that I was wrong in my column that estimated it would eventually cost P15 billion.

News reports on February 6 on the first concrete pouring for the building attended by Lacson and Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd all reported that it would cost P9 billion, a figure obviously from a Senate press release. (See my column March 20, 1019 “P15B monument to 24 political super-egos”). And this is just the contractor’s price, which doesn’t include fixtures and other hi-tech features of the building.

This is crazy. We are the only country in the world to be undertaking such a huge $200 million project, which is inarguably a luxury office for 24 government officials, at a time when we are in a recession, with our economy expected to contract 8 percent this year as compared to last year. And of course, there is still the real threat of being overwhelmed by a disease that has brought to its knees the richest nation on earth, the United States, which has had 5.3 million cases.

WHAT PANDEMIC? Senators at the site of their new building in February (top). Below, illustration of the ‘Bagong Senado.’ Senate photos

Use the P10 billion instead to build Covid-19 hospitals.

And Lacson even boasted in a speech at the Senate in February that the building would sit on 2 hectares of land with four towers and 11 floors. Each senator would have a floor?

The Senate’s insistence on continuing this project at this time is so shameless if you remember one major thing China did to contain the coronavirus from spreading in February.

Many studies of how China quickly beat the virus epidemic point not only to the strict lockdown of Wuhan City but to its amazingly quick construction of two hospitals in just 10 days, from January 24 to February 3. These had 2,300 beds, a fourth of which would be ICUs. Over 7,000 workers labored around the clock to build it, a demonstration of the power of a one-party state.

And this was done when Wuhan had only 6,000 cases and 130 deaths. The National Capital Region now has 40,000 active cases, and about 1,000 deaths.

Those Wuhan hospitals presumably would have been built at a huge cost because of the rush. But I don’t think that they cost $200 million.

There is an urgency to build even makeshift hospitals for Covid-19 patients. Emerging only in the past four weeks is the clear and present danger: the metropolis’ hospital beds for Covid-19 patients are filling to the brim.

For the entire country, hospitalizations because of Covid-19 have increased, from just 7,043 on July 12 to the August 12 level of 8,731, an indication that the increase in cases is not only due to the escalation of tests.

As in the number of total cases, hospitalizations have been mostly in the National Capital Region, which has as of the other day 4,456 patients, half of the total hospitalized in the country.

All of the top hospitals in the metropolis (read: the facility the middle to the upper classes would likely go to) have run out of total beds devoted to coronavirus patients. While few hospitals, if any, have more than 10 ICU beds, these have also filled up as of the other day.

This situation could worsen our nation’s entire pandemic situation.

First, this means that medical care facilities are running out, making those infected more vulnerable to other serious health complications. That hospital beds are running out also means that the number of health workers are no longer enough, leading to less care of patients (as well as less ICUs) leading to more deaths — including of course the health workers themselves.

Second, more and more people who suspect they’ve contracted the disease would be turned away by the hospitals and would likely adopt a fatalistic attitude and just return home — infecting their families.

And third of course, it is more likely for Covid-19 to spread within the entire hospital if it has more infected patients, especially since those with other diseases are likely to be infected.

It’s not easy for hospitals to increase their beds devoted to Covid-19 cases, as such facilities require strict medical protocols for housing patients with very infectious diseases. And more Covid-19 beds don’t make much business sense. Only the government has the capacity to set up more facilities for Covid-19 patients.

So far, I’ve heard only of quarantine facilities the government has set up, not fully functioning hospitals. Maybe we don’t have the technology, nor the materials, to set up such hospitals Wuhan-style. The Chinese apparently used prefabricated units, using new kinds of materials, and accessed blueprints for such a medical facility set up in 2003 for the SARS epidemic.

Nayong Pilipino
But we’re not without experience on this matter. Little attention has been given to the fact that the government expects a 525-bed quarantine facility at Nayong Pilipino to be operational this month. It should be converted to a fully functioning hospital for Covid-19 patients.

The Department of Public Works and Highways and the Indonesian-controlled Metro Pacific conglomerate completed in July the conversion of the Iglesia ni Cristo’s mammoth Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan into a 300-bed Covid-19 “mega-treatment” facility.

The Ayala conglomerate and the low-profile Investment & Capital Corp. of the Philippines chaired by Guillermo Luchangco opened in April a 520-bed facility for Covid-19 patients by converting portions of the World Trade Center — which of course would be idle until the pandemic ends.

The Senate? It is building a five-star luxury building for itself.

And to think that even President Duterte said that the government was running out of funds that it could no longer provide financial help to those unemployed because of the past and future lockdowns.

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