Colleagues of gang-raped nurse want to pull out from area

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/7 Oct) — The Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) said the gang-rape of a volunteer nurse in South Upi might worsen the scarcity of health workers in remote communities as more nurses threaten to pull out from “difficult” areas where they serve.

Eleanor Nolasco, chair of the PNA public relations committee, said the parents of 10 remaining nurses in South Upi, Maguindanao and some of those assigned in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) are asking their children to withdraw from the area after the September 25 gang-rape of the 22-year-old volunteer nurse.

Nolasco said Florence (not her real name) was only one of 10 volunteer nurses in South Upi, part of the 130 nurses serving the ARMM under the government’s Nurses Assigned in Rural Service (NARS) program. The program entices new registered nurses to serve poor communities within six months for a stipend of P8,000 a month.

Nurse Teresita Irigo-Barcelo, PNA national president, said the amount is just a “little more” than what public health nurses receive, an incentive for new registered nurses to go to these “difficult” posts in so short period a time.

The program has been going on for a year and has deployed 10,000 nurses to 1,000 remote towns in the country. “The program has received a generally positive response from community recipients and local government units for the services they rendered,” Irigo-Barcelo said in a statement.

The PNA expressed concern that the tragedy will discourage nurses and health practitioners from serving remote communities where services are scarce.

“We regard this rape as an attack against Florence as a person, against nursing as a profession and against the community that she served,” said Nolasco, who formed part of the group who paid a visit to the victim at the Southern Philippine Medical Center early this week.

“The heinous crime defies all human respect,” the PNA statement said. “The victim was in that remote area not for some vacation but for the noble purpose of delivering vital health services to the poor.”

Nolasco said what happened to Florence only highlights the conditions of nurses in the country. She said aside from the extreme perils and dangers that nurses are exposed to in the field, they also suffer other forms of injustices.

Nurses have been long suffering from low wages, poor working conditions, unemployment, limited or unfilled government plantillas and the below ideal nurse-to-patient ratio which highlights the low regard of nurses as a profession, she said. “Sometimes, even amidst the urgent demand for nurses, the government only offers one plantilla position for a government nurse, and this is sometimes shared by two nurses,” Nolasco said.

“We are outraged that this was done to a 22-year-old nurse who at the time of the crime was serving in a remote, underserved and unfamiliar place under the temporary employment cum health government program named,” said Irigo-Barcelo.

The group called on the government to implement “stricter” safety measures for nurses in rural areas, recognize the contributions of nurses in healthcare system in the countryside and demanded for a speedy justice for the victim.

PNA also asked the public to pray for the swift recovery of the nurse-victim and for justice to be served to her. (Germelina Lacorte / MindaNews)