An insult to everyone

By Artchil B. Fernandez

“It’s an insult to everyone, all Filipino citizens, not just health experts. For one, it’s a brazen, very brazen and blatant display of patronage politics…Bakit sa dami ng Pilipino ba’t ka kukuha ng retired general? Isa ‘yun…The second part is hindi lang siya pulis. He’s not just a simple police officer. The man has a history with the bloody anti-drug war…So, just looking at that, he reflects a value system that is anathema to what health represents.” Thus Dr. Gene Nisperos, a professor at UP College of Medicine, sums up the public sentiment on the appointment of former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Camilo Cascolan to the Department of Health as undersecretary.

The country, not just the health sector is on the uproar when BBM appointed the former PNP chief to the health department. The decision is controversial not only because of the unsavory background of the appointee but also due to the fact that the DOH is the only major department that has no official head. It is currently headed by Undersecretary Maria Rosario Clarissa Singh-Vergeire as officer-in-charge (OIC).

Stung by widespread criticism on the appointment of Cascolan to the health department, BBM was forced to defend his disreputable action. “It’s not health issues that he has to look at, that’s why he doesn’t have to be a doctor. He’s going to look at the function of the DOH,” BBM lamely said. “We need someone to examine what has been going on. What is good, what is not and what can be fixed. That would be his function,” he added.

If the problem concerns organizational structure as BBM saw it, why not appoint a management expert to the DOH? Cascolan is not a management expert or an authority on organizations. It does not follow he is a management expert just because he used to head the PNP. The bureaucracy is populated with department heads that are incompetent and inept. They are appointed due to connections and patronage politics.

The appointment of Cascolan to the DOH is problematic on many fronts. One, why prioritize the appointment of an undersecretary than that of a full-time secretary? The DOH has no chief since BBM assumed office. This is tragic not only to the department but to the country since the COVID-19 pandemic is still very much around. DOH is the lead agency that deals with the gravest health crisis to hit the country in over a century. How can the DOH lead the country out of the health crisis if it remains headless? The finding a DOH chief should have been BBM’s topmost priority.

Taking the current Covid-19 pandemic into account, appointing a medical doctor, or a health expert at the undersecretary level is crucial. Specialization is one characteristic of modern life. Gone are the days of the jack-all-trades. To achieve organizational efficiency, effectivity, and productivity, an agency must be led by competent person who knows well the area he is assigned.

Security/police and health are two separate spheres. Being a good police officer (this is debatable in Cascolan’s case) does not make the person a health expert and vice versa. If specialization is not needed as defenders of Cascolan assert, would the police force be comfortable if a medical doctor (with no police background) is appointed as PNP chief? Is an electrical engineer the most qualified person to lead an accounting firm and is an accountant highly suitable to run a power plant?

Considering Cascolan’s role in Du30’s bloody and gory war against illegal drugs, his appointment to the DOH is a blatant insult to the agency’s function as the lead health agency in the country. DOH’s paramount concern is life – saving, nurturing and enhancing it. For someone actively involved in necro-politics at the top leadership of DOH is the ultimate sacrilege to its mandate.

As then PNP Director for Operations, Cascolan was among those who crafted “Oplan Double Barrel,” Du30’s flagship program that took the lives of thousands (6,000 to 30,000). How can someone who engineered the slaughter of thousands be entrusted to preserve life? Cascolan has blood in his hands and the same hands can never be preservers of life. In his professional life, Cascolan only excelled in one thing – the mass murder of suspected drug addicts/pushers.  Instead of being at the DOH, Cascolan should stand trial for crimes against humanity.

BBM placing him at the DOH’s leadership is offensive to all health professionals in the country. How can someone who designed a program that killed thousands of suspected drug offenders led the healers of the country? Cascolan view the drug situation as a law-and-order problem and prescribed a “kill them all” solution while health professionals look at drug addiction as a health problem with a therapeutic approach. He has no place in an organization that is committed to the preservation of life, having led an organization that snuffed out and destroyed thousands of lives. Healing and killing do not mix.

The penchant of appointing former police and military officials to civilian posts that require specialization must end. Du30 chose former military officials to lead the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) and the country’s pandemic management is among the worst in the world. BBM is following his predecessor’s footstep thinking a military or police background is an important asset. Military and police personnel are not experts in every single thing and they are not good at everything.  They are not saviors who excel in all things.

Militarizing the civilian bureaucracy is not healthy since this can cripple it with the appointment of unsuitable people to positions. The practice is an insult to everyone.