the PCSO experience

everyone knows by now that my mom’s sick. she’s had two strokes, first on aug. 20 and again on oct. 19.

sept. 25 to oct. 18 we were pretty much looking forward to a full recovery, given her response to rehab, but now we’re back to zero.

mom’s first hospitalization, the hospital bill (after senior’s discount and humanitarian discounts from the doctors, including our aunt who charged nothing), amounted to over P878,000. thanks to medicard coverage, philhealth, loans, and crowdfunding donations from the best friends and family you could ask for, as well as a generous donation from senator ralph recto, we made the payments.

this second hospitalization, mom is no longer eligible for medicard (exceeded coverage on the first blow), and her philhealth coverage is limited. so we applied to the PCSO. thanks to the generous endorsement of senator miriam defensor santiago (you’re wondering how we get these senators to help out: through kind friends who brought our plight to their attention, that’s how, and complete requirements we got from barangay, hospital admin, et. al.), we managed to get our application to the attention of pcso chairman erineo maliksi.

i may have botched the interview with his staff though. i didn’t wax poetic over our circumstances, focusing on mother’s situation rather than family finances. and on paper, we’re a middle-class family with college degrees. mother and father own their home. (never mind us renters with less-than-stellar personal financial management).

contrast that with the others who petition the pcso, and really, we had very little chance of getting any more than the P17,600 we got to help with the running bill of over P100,000 (as of oct. 27).

i met a lady, sun-browned and ballsy, whose 18-year-old pamankin needs P35,000 for the steel supports setting his bones, which were fractured during a hit-and-run. post-surgery, rustom c. is even more determined to finish his criminology degree and become a policeman, because of this experience. and his aunt, who sells balut, is determined that he get the chance; they’ve pawned the family palayan in samar for a measly P51,000 just to fund his surgical op, hospitalization, treatment and rehab. then there’s pcso.

there was a lady, thin and nervy, who had two kids with dengue in hospital; bills per child were P20,000 and P18,000, respectively. for the latter, pcso guaranteed payment of P10,000. though more than half her burden was alleviated, she was worried over getting the rest of the money for that particular child, while waiting on word about the other petition for her other kid.

there was a baby-faced six-months pregnant housewife whose husband the breadwinner is also confined in hospital. she lined up at 4 a.m., and nearly 12 hours later we had to ask for special consideration for her (priority lane ought to serve pregnant women as well as seniors, yes?).

another lady, who spoke with some reticence and in cultured tones, had a P200K hospital bill to contend with, and also came in at 4 a.m. like me, it was also her first time to appeal to pcso. unlike me, she got no help from anyone inside. she got her guaranty letter at around 3:30 p.m.

we were the second to the last batch of the day but we were some of the lucky ones, actually. others camped out overnight to be first in line, then languished for hours, only to be asked to come back (because they had incomplete requirements).

many will judge me to be luckier than most. mom is in a private room; some of the patients seeking aid for hospitalization are in charity wards. some had no jobs; i’ve turned down jobs. some camped out; i got a green-light to the chairman’s office, thanks to a senator’s endorsement. my application letter was computer-typed, written in straight English, and printed out; i saw others writing on yellow pad to make their petition. my IDs included a passport; my seatmate was worried that her expired postal ID–her only ID–wouldn’t be honored.

actually, some would say i’m one of those few who have no business being there.

“may mga okay sana ang sitwasyon, pero dahil sa haba ng hospitalization, siyempre kailangan din ng tulong.”  a paraphrase of something my first interviewer at the chairman’s office said to me early that morning, stressing that we can ask for help twice if what’s given is not sufficient. a portent of what was to come.

of course, someone ought to have warned me as well, to not be brash, and disregard any downloads from their official website–another pcso official i dealt with down the line took offense that i was “insisting” that i submit the completed form i had downloaded (though identical, “my” form was the older version, i’m told by yet another officer more kindly disposed toward foolish petitioners. i had filled up “my” form two days earlier, in anticipation. information within hadn’t changed since then, but when it comes to lines, no one wants to disturb the flow with any changes in protocol.)

public advisory: do not question the process. and do not piss off people, however inadvertently.

plus, the lady i pissed off probably hadn’t had lunch yet, hadn’t had a break (no noon breaks at pcso), had dealt with a horde of petitioners already, and–the clincher–was offended that i had crossed an invisible barrier to call her attention. (note: i am, after all, the same girl who got reprimanded for sliding across a senator’s desk to interview him on the other side, past the other senate reporters—the reason why i know a few people at the senate is because i was once a delinquent reporter).

there are some barriers you just can’t cross. wrong move there.

but in my defense: like the rest of the petitioners, i’d had very little sleep, had traveled far to get there, had spoken to multiple officials within two separate offices (mandaluyong and qc branch) already, was unfamiliar with the process, was confused at the sheer number of people haphazardly (to my eyes) sectioned off from each other, and only wanted to ask a question with no intention of breaking any rules or crossing any invisible barriers. added to which, i was worried and in a precarious emotional state, have been for months now.

oh well. needs must. “huwag ka dito, bawal ka dito, diyan ka lang, diyan ka magtanong,” peeved lady told me, in no uncertain terms.

when all is said and done, i’m grateful for the pcso guaranty. but do you blame me for ruing that it only covers so very little? over P100,000 and counting is no joke. (which is why i’m going collecting on previous employers for money due yours truly. pride-swallowing and all that. thankfully, they’re open.)

i must say one of the pcso personnel there, a mustachioed guy with expressive eyebrows, made the experience more fun by cracking tasteful jokes, rather than lecturing (as was another’s wont, uttering phrases like “gusto niyo bang umuwi na tayong lahat? parang ayaw niyo e” reminiscent of a bored, uncaring babysitter addressing not very bright and unruly children), or barking orders (the rote mode of interaction). mustache man made an effort to make people laugh. so we took our cue, and laughed with him, and made our own jokes.

you gotta love pinoy humor. it’s our saving grace.

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