Senator Francis Tolentino has urged the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to convert vacant passenger ships as “hospitals ships”, amid the rising cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the country resulting to overcrowding of hospitals.
Tolentino, in his letter to Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade, said the agency can convert initially three ships as temporary medical facility for the health needs of the whole nation.
The senator said that with the three passenger vessels – one will be provided for Luzon (Manila Port), and the two others for Visayas (Cebu Port) and Minadanao (Davao Port) to serve as hospital ships.
Tolentino noted this would increase the bed capacity for the increasing number of COVID-19 patients.
He said it would immediately address the need for additional facilities for patients of new coronavirus.
He said private hospitals in Metro Manila have recently declared that they have reached full capacity.
He said the move is in line with the passage and enactment of Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which empowers the President to utilize passenger ships as quarantine hospitals due to the current shortage of hospital beds.
“The State may take temporarily take over or direct the operations or any vessel engaged in domestic trade and commerce, or prescribe its rates or routes of operation in a state of national emergency and when required by public interest, under reasonable terms prescribed by it,” the lawmaker explained, citing Sec. 24 of Republic Act No. 9295 or the Domestic Shipping Development Act of 2004, as the basis for his proposal.
“Given that a passenger ship’s capacity can reach up to 1, 200 passengers and since these are available now, with most of these vacant and docked in the Port of Manila, due to the travel restrictions, allowing these vessels to be used as temporary medical facilities this will address the shortage of hospital spaces and will ease the burden of our hospitals and our health workers,” Tolentino said.
The law, Republic Act No. 11469, declares the existence of a national emergency and grants the President special powers to address the pandemic in the country.
Among these is the power of the President to direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals and medical health facilities including passenger vessels to serve as temporary medical facilities, among other purposes, in Sec. 4(h) of the law, which is similar to the US Navy ships that are deployed to California and New York to serve as mobile hospitals in the fight against COVID-19 therein, the lawmaker further said./Stacy Ang