By Rey Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed the petition challenging the constitutionality of the law that increases the penalties for owners of hospitals and clinics, and their physicians and personnel who “request, solicit, demand or accept deposit or advance payment as a prerequisite not only for confinement or medical treatment but also for administering basic emergency care.”
The decision released last week and written by Associate Justice Noel Gimenez Tijam, however, did not contain a definitive declaration of constitutionality of Republic Act No. 10932, known as the Anti-Hospital Deposit Law that was signed by President Duterte on Aug. 3, 2017.
The SC merely said that RA 10932 “enjoys the presumption of constitutionality which the Court, at the first instance, cannot disturb in the absence of a prima facie showing of grave abuse of discretion and, upon delving into the merits, in the absence of a clearest showing that there was indeed an infraction of the Constitution. “
“If the Court were to invalidate the questioned law on the basis of conjectures and suppositions, then it would be unduly treading questions of policy and wisdom not only of the legislature that passed it, but also of the executive which approved it,” it explained.
With the ruling, the SC dismissed the petition filed by the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, Inc. (PHAPi) purely on technical grounds – the lack of legal standing of the association to file the petition, no actual and justifiable issues presented, and failure to follow the doctrine of hierarchy of courts.
On April 4, 2018, the Department of Health (DOH) issued Administrative Order No. 2018-0012 that implements RA 10932.
Aside from banning the request, solicitation, demand or acceptance of deposit and advance payment, RA 10932 also expanded the scope of “basic emergency care” to include “medical procedures and treatment administered to a woman in active labor.”
The law mandates the local government unit where the hospital or medical clinic is located “to allow free use of its emergency medical vehicle” in case a transfer to another hospital of a patient is deemed appropriate.
It imposes on violators – hospital owners, medical practitioners, employees – “the penalty of imprisonment of not less than six months and one day but not more than two years and four months, or a fine of not less than Pl00,000, but not more than P300,000, or both at the court's discretion.”
It stressed that “when the violation was made pursuant to an established hospital policy or upon instructions of its management, the penalties are increased as against the director or officer formulating and implementing such policy to four years to six years, or a fine of not less than P500,000, but not more than Pl,000,000, or both, without prejudice to an award for damages.”
Also, the law introduced “the three-strike rule, or when upon three repeated violations committed pursuant to an established policy or upon instruction of the management, the health facility's license to operate shall be revoked by the Department of Health (DOH).”
It holds “the president, chairman, board of directors, or trustees and other officers of the health facility solidarily liable for damages.”