THE LEGAL FRONT
By JUSTICE ART D. BRION (RET.)
Early this month, the Supreme Court ruled that government nurses are entitled to a higher basic pay — a monthly rate at Salary Grade (SG) 15, four ranks higher than their current SG 11 level.
I fully commend the court for its ruling. And I add my small voice – based on our nurses’ humanitarian contributions to society and the lessons they impart – to the call for the same level of compensation for all nurses, even for those in the private sector.
My first meaningful brush with nurses came a long time ago in a far-away land — some 37 years ago in Lebanon. I was then the labor official overseeing the evacuation of Filipino workers caught in the siege of West Beirut. The Israelis had blockaded West Beirut and isolated the Palestinian fighters inside; nobody could get in or out without Israeli permission.
Inside West Beirut was the American University Hospital, the only institution left, other than the Red Cross, attending to the wounded and the dying. All medical personnel had already been evacuated from the hospital, except for some American doctors and Filipina nurses who had refused to leave.
They were reportedly caring for at least 50 patients each and had decided, true to their to their professional oath, not to abandon their patients.
No pleas or arguments by the Red Cross could persuade the doctors and nurses to leave; they simply remained at their posts despite the hail of bullets and falling shells outside.
Due to the heavy fighting, the Red Cross unfortunately did not even have the opportunity to confirm the medical personnel’s individual identities. They were only sure that the nurses were Filipinas as all other nationalities had already left.
While the siege eventually ended, the disorder in Lebanon remained and we were never able to individually identify the nurses. But we did not forget; we told and re-told their stories, in our official reports, before the DOLE at every opportunity, and even in the meetings of the Philippine Nurses Association.
We could not forget because these nurses left us indelible lessons – their dedication to the nursing profession and their faithfulness to their oath. They serve as models in our hope that all our professionals will eventually observe the same level of dedication.
Fast-forward to 13 years ago, I was the secretary of labor when the nursing world was rocked by allegations of leakage in the nursing licensure exams. The Professional Regulations Commission (PRC) initially placed the announcement of the exam results on hold, but eventually backtracked after disregarding the leaked questions and adjusting the exam results.
The move did not satisfy at all the nursing deans and the Philippine Nursing Association; they wanted a full investigation and the nullification of the exam results, if necessary. The leak was not miniscule; it was reportedly beamed nationwide in a sponsored television hook-up.
Then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo asked the DOLE to handle the scandal, in particular the nursing deans’ objections to the PRC move. The objectors were driven by one sole purpose — the need to protect the integrity of the examinations and the reputation of the nursing profession.
Both sides – the PRC and the nurses – refused to budge from their positions and the case eventually ended up with the Court of Appeals. The court, unfortunately for us, opted for the prompt resolution of the dispute rather than for integrity. It upheld the PRC position.
At that point, we had practically lost our fight for integrity until the American Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) waded in by announcing that they would not process the application to the US of 2006 graduates if there would be no re-exam.
With the deans’ help, we convinced the CGFNS to allow a voluntary re-examination, only for purposes of US applications, to be conducted by the nursing deans under DOLE supervision.
And that was how the nursing exam leakage story ended, a lengthy, bitter, and losing fight that we fought side by side with the nursing deans and the nurses. We all learned valuable lessons from this experience: fighting for integrity is not easy, nor is it without costs and sacrifices.
Our major saving grace was the world’s continued belief in the competence, dedication and integrity of our nurses. All these, the foreign hospitals, their administrators, doctors and patients – whether in the Middle East, in Northern Europe, in Britain, America, or Japan – recognized and talked about glowingly.
Beyond the professional competence, skills, and dedication, they all recognized the special loving care that our nurses invariably provide. This distinctive level of service, to my mind, must have been imbibed from our nurses’ mothers and families who stand as their ever present models.
After repeated hospital confinements, I can personally attest to the enhanced level of care, warmth, and attention that our nurses provide beyond the required ethical standards of giving patients full respect, protecting their rights and dignity, and maintaining their trust and confidence.
I relate all these as life lessons that our nurses teach us. In the practice of their profession, they carry not only their identities, rights and entitlements; beyond these, they also conscientiously attend to the their obligations as professionals and as human beings.
This is a level of performance many of us forget in these days when thoughts of rights and entitlements, rather than service, mainly predominate.
I do hope that society will duly recognize our nurses’ contributions to our nation and to humanity, and accordingly give them – whether they be in the public or the private sectors – the compensation justly due them.
More power and thanks to all the nurses out there!