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No laughing matter

By Cong Corrales

“I hope my death makes more cents than my life.” – Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), Joker, 2019

I HAVE finally watched what is fast becoming the highest-grossing movie of the year — Joker. First things first, I have to issue an apology to my writer-friends. I gave them grief over what appeared to me as “over analyzing” the movie. I gave the comments even before I watched the movie. I admit I was obviously wrong. I am sorry.

The movie itself is more of a socio-political commentary than an origin story of a fictional villain. Joaquin Phoenix made Arthur Fleck a readily available character. The Joker character is so relatable that you don’t even have to analyze it. You just watch the unfolding events in the character’s life in the movie and you’ll almost automatically understand where he is coming from.

Even the campaign promise of Gotham City mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne — yes, the daddy of Batman — that he will be the man of the masses resounds loudly to our present predicament. Tell me if you cannot relate to a candidate who said he will eradicate poverty and helplessness but in the same breath called the masses a bunch of jokers. We have got a lot of that in the last three years.

At least, that’s what my family and I got after watching the movie over the weekend. A thing I highly doubt the other moviegoers grasped as they were laughing at the wrong critical plot points of the story.

I will not go into dissecting the movie from top to bottom. Let me just share a critical plot point in the movie that struck me the most. Still, a spoiler alert is in order.

Gotham City had cut the budget of the social welfare department. This meant that the mental health services program which Fleck depended on for his medication was shut down.

The social worker succinctly explained to Fleck — “They don’t give a s*** about people like you. They don’t give a s*** about people like me either.”

Cutting the budgets of departments that render basic public social and medical services will always redound to disastrous effects on people who the people in power have sworn to serve.

It is so much like this administration cutting the Human Resource for Health Deployment Program budget from P8.5 billion to P2.45 billion in 2020.

Sen. Ralph Recto has warned that the budget cut will mean the unprecedented and biggest “endo” incident in government. The budget cut will mean 7,107 public health nurses will lose their jobs next year.

For clarification, this issue is dear to me. You see, my late mom served as a public nurse for the most part of her life. To me, this is an outrage.

This budget of the health department next year will only cover 3,854 nurses of the currently deployed 17,293 nurses this year. All 202 public dentists and 597 medical technologists of the health department will also lose their jobs next year.

All in all, Recto warned, at least 10,921 public health personnel employed under the Human Resource for Health Deployment Program will be jobless next year. This means a job attrition rate of four in 10 or a 40 percent casualty rate, Recto added.

To be able to appreciate the breadth and width of the effect this massive retrenchment of public health personnel to the country, we need to know the ideal ratio of nurse to a patient in the Philippines.

According to the Department of Health, the ideal nurse to patient ratio is one nurse for every 12 patients. The sad part is that this is hardly true to many public hospitals in the country. Now, that ratio will exacerbate the already bare public health services of the government.

The reality is that for every 25 to 35 patients, there are only two nurses on duty to serve them. So with simple arithmetic, 7,107 nurses who stand to be fired mean at least 177, 675 patients will be deprived of public health services next year.

So, I ask you this then, what good will the “malasakit centers” be if most of your “boots on the ground” have been booted out of public health service? The clerks employed in this additional bureaucracy will not chart the health status of the patients. Nurses do that. Pfft.


About Cong Corrales

Before joining the Gold Star Daily, Cong worked as the deputy director of the multimedia desk of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), and before that he served as a writing fellow of Vera Files. Under the pen name "Cong," Leonardo Vicente B. Corrales has worked as a journalist since 2008. Corrales has published news, in-depth, investigative and feature articles on agrarian reform, peace and dialogue initiatives, climate justice, and socio-economics in local and international news organizations, which which includes among others: Philippine Daily Inquirer, Business World, MindaNews,, Agence France-Presse, Xinhua News Wires, Thomson-Reuters News Wires,, and Pecojon-PH.

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