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PRC awaits CA word on nursing exams

PRC awaits CA word on nursing exams
By Sheila Crisostomo
The Philippine Star 09/29/2006

The Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) is leaving it up to the Court of Appeals (CA) to decide whether a new licensure examination for the June batch of nursing graduates should be administered.

"We’ll wait for the decision of the CA," PRC Chairwoman Leonor Rosero said when asked for her reaction to President Arroyo’s order for a retake of the leakage-tainted exams. "It’s already in court."

Rosero said the PRC met with Labor Secretary Arturo Brion yesterday morning and they agreed to let the CA decide the fate of the June nursing licensure examination passers.

The President, talking to nursing graduates who approached her while she was inspecting the damage caused by a huge tree uprooted by typhoon "Milenyo" to the front yard of the St. Jude’s Church near Malacañang, said she will not reverse her decision on the June nursing exam.

Mark Soriano, a graduate of the Lyceum of the Philippines- Pangasinan and one of the passing examinees of the exam, asked Mrs. Arroyo to consider the nursing graduates who passed the exam but did not cheat.

"There’s no way to determine who did not participate (in the cheating), that’s the problem," the President told Soriano and other nursing graduates who accompanied him. "Now, to make the burden lighter, the review and other expenses (of the exams) will be subsidized by the government."

The CA is now hearing a petition filed a month ago by the faculty members of the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) college of nursing, the League of Concerned Nurses and the Binuklod na Samahan ng mga Student Nurses.

The petitioners sought a retake of the examination as they questioned the actions taken by the PRC to cleanse the examination of leaked test questions. Pending its decision on the petition, the CA issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping the oath-taking of passing examinees.

Since the leakage controversy broke out, the PRC has taken a firm "no retake" stand, saying it believes that, of over 17,000 passing examinees, only around 2,000 to 3,000 examinees gained access to the leaked test questions.

Mrs. Arroyo also said she ordered that the retake would be conducted before the next regular licensure examinations in December.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the President’s decision stands despite protests from some groups. Bunye said this move will serve national interests by upholding the integrity of the country’s nursing profession.

Malacañang also said it will not sidestep the petition for a retake pending before the CA with the President’s decision.

Presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor and Commission on Filipinos Overseas head Dante Ang said Brion, who is a former CA justice, and the PRC will decide on the action to be taken so the decision of the Executive branch will not unduly interfere with the judicial proceedings.

Defensor and Ang said Mrs. Arroyo’s decision to order a retake was the result of a "debate" presentation by Brion on the situation of nurses and the nursing profession as a result of the leakage issue.

Ang said the most contentious issues now are whether or not both the passing and failing examinees will retake the exam and whether or not all the tests will be covered or just tests three and five, the questions of which had been leaked.

"The President was very emphatic in saying that we must protect the innocent, but at the same time uphold the integrity of the nurses’ profession and the system as a whole," Ang said.

"After the pros and cons were (weighed she decided on a) retake to give the country a good image before the local and international community," he added.

Several passers and flunkers in the June licensure exam asked the CA to stop the PRC from issuing licenses to those who passed the test and to order the PRC to reschedule the retaking of portions of test three because of the leakage.

In a statement, Bunye asked all parties involved in the matter of the controversial nursing exam "to put their recriminations aside and focus on a credible and untainted retake of the exams."

"This is a final decision of President Arroyo in the national interest and we ask for full cooperation from all sectors concerned," he said. "Her only wish is to uphold the integrity of the Philippine nursing profession, which is known to be one of the best in the world."

According to Bunye, "the nursing profession is not only a shining symbol of the Filipino culture of caring, but our source of pride and dignity in the international community."

He also assured the public that justice will be served in the matter of the investigation into the alleged leakage of test questions as he called on all stakeholders to ensure that this incident is never repeated: "The fortunes of thousands of nurses are at stake and we must not let them down."

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita earlier said Mrs. Arroyo gave the go-ahead for a retake of the nursing licensure examinations following deliberations by concerned Cabinet officials during a meeting at Malacañang Tuesday.

He also said the President issued Executive Order 565 putting the PRC under the supervision of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

The PRC said ordering a retake of the nursing test would mean punishing even examinees innocent of cheating. However, the commission admitted that it is not possible to identify the examinees who benefited from the leakage because there was no clustering of high grades in the examination.

Justice in the judiciary

The Alliance of New Nurses (ANN), the group formed by the passing examinees, said it remains confident that the appellate court will rule in their favor.

"We are very hopeful that justice will be on our side," ANN president Renato Aquino said. "We still believe there’s justice in our judiciary, that they are independent of Malacañang. We want those who perpetrated the leakage prosecuted, but please spare the innocent ones."

Those supporting calls for a retake of the nursing licensure examination, on the other hand, expressed elation over the President’s decision.

University of the Philippines Institute of Health Policy and Development Study director Dr. Marilyn Lorenzo said the retake order will eliminate the stigma on this year’s passing batch of nursing examinees.

Lorenzo said that, if the people look beyond the immediate impact of a retake, especially among those who passed the test, they will realize that a retake will provide a far better future for the country’s nursing profession.

However, since the nursing licensure test is scheduled for December, Lorenzo proposed that the exam retake for the June batch of examinees be administered in November.

She said it would be chaotic to hold two examinations simultaneously. Lorenzo said the June batch of nursing examinees number about 42,000, while the December batch of examinees number 60,000.

She added that the UP Institute of Health Policy and Development Study is willing to assist the PRC in coming up with questionnaires for the two examinations.

At the Senate, Sen. Richard Gordon welcomed the President’s decision to order a retake of the nursing licensure examination.

"Better late than never," Gordon said. "I have long maintained that the only way to put closure to this matter is, at the very least, by way of requiring a retake of tests three and five of the board for everyone shown to have received the leaked questions."

Gordon said the retake should not affect the filing of charges, both administrative and criminal, against members of the PRC, the Board of Nursing (BON) and the concerned review centers.

"(It is) just as important now to continue working to ensure that all those behind the leakage are caught and duly punished," he said.

Gordon expressed hope that the controversy will help concerned agencies realize the need to introduce reforms in the nursing community.

"Our nursing community can come together and work with the government to help introduce the necessary programs and policies that will prevent the occurrence of similar incidents in the future and that will uplift the industry standards for nursing education as well," he said.

With the President’s move, Gordon said, the country’s nurses may be able to immediately regain the confidence they lost because of the controversy.

"The world healthcare community will appreciate this move by the Philippine government because it shows how serious we are in addressing this matter," Gordon said. — With Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez, Aurea Calica, Marvin Sy

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