Scandal Frays Nerves of Davao Nurses

Oct. 25, 2006

Davaoeos who passed the scandal-tainted June 2006 nursing board exams are junking the plan to require a retake of the test, while some bewailed the governments failures in the education and health systems as the primary factors that created this mess. Jeffrey B. Javier reports.

DAVAO CITY — “Stop persecuting us!”

This was the plea of Richard Erick Caballero, a nursing graduate of the Davao Doctor’s College and one of the passers in the June 2006 Nursing Licensure Exam (NLE), during a recent round-table discussion here on the controversy that has buffeted the countrys medical profession.

Caballero has a reason to be outraged at the aftermath of the scandal, one of which is the push by certain quarters to require a retake of the exam: he did not enroll in any nursing review center, several of which are said to be the source of the leak of some questions in the test.

“It is not fair to all of us to take the liability of what the few did,” Caballero said. “Do we also have to take the retake?”

The round-table discussion focused on the issues surrounding the recent NLE, primarily on the issue of “retake or no retake.” It was organized by the Community-Based Health Services Association-Mindanao Inc. (CBHSA-Mindanao), the Urban Integrated Health Services Foundation Inc. (UIHSFI), and Alagad sa Maayong Panglawas (Alamapa), a Davao City-based organization of medical students.

During the forum, the controversy was described as “a mere allegation that seeped rapidly throughout the country.”

“It would have been trivial for the nursing community to have this kind of problem,” said Roger Tong-an of the CBHSA and the Davao City chairman of the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA). But in light of recent events, the controversy turned out to be not just a claim but a disruptive reality.

“We would have let this thing pass,” Tong-an continued, “until Malacaang issued a statement that ordered all examinees to retake the NLE. This is where everything got chaotic.”

According to the investigation of the Senate and the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), some parts of the exam were circulated in review centers before the examination date, particularly by the Gapuz Review Center in Baguio and the Inress Review Center owned by George Cordero, the former national president of the PNA.

This issue is enormously affecting not just the lives of the passers but also their family. According to Caballero, financial matters are the least of his worries. “What’s really eating my family is the emotional anguish that this controversy has brought us,” he said.

But Bong Galdoza disagreed. A nurse and an active representative of a group called Mga Nagkahiusang mga Bag-ong Narses ug Ginikanan sa Mindanao, Galdoza has a son who is one of the passers in the June 2006 NLE.

“As a parent,” he said, “financial matters matter.” He provided for the education of his son for many years and it displeased him to hear that certain people are advocating a retake. “I have four other children who are still in school,” he siad. “I won’t sacrifice the money budgeted for them just for my son to retake the exam.”

It has been pointed out that a simple review for the NLE costs around 12,000-16,000 pesos for each student, 20,000-50,000 pesos if the review was meant for foreign employment. This excludes examination and other fees, like a 1,000-peso fee issued by the Board of Nursing (BoN) just for an invitation and a program for the oath-taking of new nurses.

But this goes beyond the issue of leakage and retake. “We also have to inquire ‘why is there a leakage,'” said Maricel L. Nalian, a nurse and a clinical instructor at Brokenshire College here. “This leakage never have happened if the government gave much attention on nursing education.”

She rued the problems of the nursing education system and the Philippine educational system as a whole.

Dr. Eugenio S. Nalian, the executive director of UIHSFI, shared his wifes sentiments. “If there is sufficient education given by nursing schools,” he said, “there would have been no point of establishing review centers.”

Since 1999, the number of nursing schools in the Philippines increased from 186 up to 460. But 40 percent of these schools have zero-percent passing rate in the NLE. Moreover, only 8 percent of the graduates of 24 schools passed the exam. With the mass of students enrolling for nursing, and considering these frightening figures, review centers had to be established in order to help students prepare for the NLE.

In fact, according to Tong-an, it came to a point when students would be better equipped to pass the NLE during the few months in these review centers than during the four years or so that they spent in nursing schools.

“Nursing schools, let alone the review centers, are not being properly monitored, especially by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED),” Tong-an said.

The discussion also tackled the scant budget provided for health services. “The government spends 27 million pesos every day to pay for the national debt,” said Dani Beltran from the national office of the Council for Health and Development (CHD). “Only 35 centavos is allocated for the health of each Filipino every day. This includes facilities, medicines, and others, like services and salaries.”

In 1990s, the salary of a nurse working for a government hospital was higher compared to those who worked in private hospitals. “But it was guerilla nursing, where a nurse had to attend to 80 patients on a single shift,” said Mrs. Nelian. “I have to admit that nursing is only in demand because of the lure of money, for greener pasture. It is easy to go abroad with this kind of profession.”

The salary of a nurse who works abroad can be as high as 80,000 pesos a month, the lowest being 30,000 pesos.

At the end of the discussion, Caballero repeated his call as well as the general appeal that there should be no retake. He also demanded jobs and justice for the victims of the nursing leakage and to punish the perpetuators.

He also pointed out that the NLE passers in Davao are not passive. “My fellow examinees may not be as loud as the others,” he said, “but we have taken action.” Caballero’s group, for instance, plans to sue the advocates of retake for moral damages and others. (Jeffrey B. Javier/

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