President Aquino Speech at the 104th Philippine Medical Association annual convention


Speech of
His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At the 104th annual convention of the Philippine Medical Association
[As delivered at the Grand Regal Hotel, Davao City on May 18, 2011]
P-NoyIyong speech ko po ngayon ginawa nilang English. Sabi ko, nasa Pilipinas tayo, pare-pareho tayong mga Pilipino, bakit English? Mayroon raw ho kayong foreigners. Philippine Medical Association may foreigners? Wala naman akong nakita. Problema lang ho, huli na ho; ‘yung speech nasa English na. Pasensya na po muna.
Yesterday, I was in Sta. Ana Hospital, in Manila, to inaugurate their new facilities—a 10-storey structure. And over there, in one of the rooms, I saw them treating a little child. I inquired about the condition of the child, and I was told that he had delayed development. I wonder if this was brought about by a lack of resources on his parents’ part to give him the nutrition every child needs within the critical first two years of life. His face was different from those of the other children we commonly see playing in some public park. There was no careless smile on his face, no energetic grin, and I got the feeling that simply—from a simple lack of resources—this little kid probably had already lost his childhood.
This young Filipino is just one person amid a large number of our countrymen who urgently need health care. I am told four out of ten Filipinos never get to see a health professional in their entire lives. So it is in this light, we could even say that the little kid I talked about was lucky to even have access to treatment. Our people find it difficult as it is to put food on their tables, to send their children to school, to buy what they need for day-to-day survival, and to the extent that a serious sickness can serve as a death sentence. This to me is unacceptable. I have pledged to significantly reduce poverty before the end of my term, and an essential component to that is to provide wider access to basic healthcare. I believe it is part of our civic duties to muster every resource we can, to explore every idea, and to exert every effort to eliminate this problem.
Allow me then to talk about what we are doing now. Our healthcare reforms aim to provide medical treatment to the people who need it most and to enhance the kind of services that people can avail of. Each and every Filipino deserves to be cared for in times of sickness—and we are moving as quickly as we can toward this goal.
This year, we have allotted a total of 7.1 billion pesos to the Health Facility Improvement Program—5.7 billion pesos will go to the upgrading of our rural health units and barangay health stations, with 1.4 billion going the way of enhancing DOH-retained hospitals.
One month after our administration took office, we passed PhilHealth Board Resolution No. 1417, which adopted the National Household Targeting System. With this, it is now easier for us to identify the poorest of the poor, who need the benefits offered by PhilHealth and other government institutions.
We have also been reaching out directly to those who need medical assistance. Ten thousand nurses have already been deployed to the poorest communities targeted through the RN HEALS program of the DOH. They will be assigned to the rural health units that were once undermanned, and they have been strategically paired with their areas so that they can be close to home, and for them to better understand the concerns of the locals.
But our projects are not just about treating people who are already sick. As many of you must have shared with your patients countless times, “prevention is better than cure.” We have launched the “Iligtas sa Tigdas ang ‘Pinas” campaign—napaka-poetic po ni Secretary Ona—which aims to immunize 18 million Filipino children from measles. So far, we have immunized more than 12 million of them, and we can expect to reach the full 18 million in the following weeks. We have also been preventing disease through other means, such as cleaning up the pollution, and various other pollutions, in the country. For instance, from 166 micrograms of total suspended particulates per cubic meter of air, we have progressed to a more acceptable 120 in February: 166 was when I took office; the UN standard is only at 90 micrograms. In more concrete terms, what was once a metropolis shrouded in smog is now a metropolis tidier and clearer. The air that we breathe in the NCR now is kinder to our lungs, and as a result, we are much safer from respiratory disease. Can I just highlight that particular fact? What did we do? Obviously, when we want to address air pollution, trees are one of the more important lines of defense. But a tree planted today will reap benefits for us ten years down the line. What did we actually do? We have a Clean Air Act Law. The law states that smoke emission testing should be done. Our LTO and the DENR studied smoke emission testing centers, and they determined that a particular machine for testing can only service about 80 vehicles per day. The LTO went back to its records, found out that there were so many reporting 300 to 600 vehicles being serviced per day. In other words, anything above 80 was fake. There were too many people with a lack of conscience, our air quality suffered. We imposed the law, we closed these unscrupulous entities: The air improved quite significantly.
Our administration has always been about the Filipino people—responding to their concerns and sharing and easing the burdens they have to carry. This is why I find it important to talk about a 16-year old girl I met in Baseco. At an age when she was supposed to attend proms and to study for college entrance exams, she was already facing the challenge of raising two children. She went from childhood to motherhood with no decent high school education. She already had enough trouble feeding herself, much more two babies who needed milk, diapers, vitamins and what have you, and, most importantly, time. Who is responsible for this? What brought about this situation?
This is why it is important for us to talk about responsible parenthood. We need legislation that prevents this tragedy from happening. I have read the Philippine Medical Association’s stance on reproductive health, and I am glad to note that it is consistent with my own. Let me reiterate my position for the nth time: Reproductive health must be against abortion; it must educate couples as to their responsibilities to their children, and give them a full menu of options on family planning, as they are in the best position to decide on matters affecting their families.
In short, we do not want, and we will not, force anyone to go against their individual consciences. All we want is to give our people a chance to make their own intelligent and well-informed decisions. I hope when Congress does send me the bill, it is consistent with my own five-point position.
I know some sectors are against this bill, but it is the right thing to do. It is right to educate our people, instead of holding them hostage to the scant resources available to them, and it is right to grant them free will, which is their inherent right—the concept upon which this democracy and, not to mention, the Catholic Church, were built. I urge the Church to work with us instead on the many areas where we do agree—poverty alleviation, peace and order, and perhaps, even responsible mining. Let us work together. This single issue does not have to be as divisive as it has become.
A reporter once asked me what has changed in my life since I assumed the presidency. My answer I think was simple enough. I think it is easier to say, What has remained unchanged? For instance, I think all of us will from time to time to eat in a restaurant: Meals have become impossible to even consume without having to look around if there are cameras pointed at me waiting to take a photo of me taking a bite. As you know, I am still single. If I ever get a chance to go out on a date, it seems I have invited the entire Filipino people to join me at our date. And I wonder who gave them the right, and I wind up apologizing to whoever had the misfortune of joining me in that circus.
But perhaps the more important question is this: What has changed in the lives of our people this past year? This is what we have continuously toiled for—that we be able to help our fellow Filipinos unshackle themselves from poverty by providing them access to medical care or support legislation that will take us a step closer toward true social justice.
In the end, what we want is simple: We want that little boy in Sta. Ana Hospital to be able to wear a real smile on his face; we want the young mother in Baseco to be able to raise her children in an environment where they would know better than to repeat the mistakes of the past; we want each and every Juan de la Cruz to reach his fullest potential.
The bottom line is this: The future is made in the present. We can opt to be observers whose futures are cast to the wind, or we can choose to participate—to be part of the solution—in rebuilding this country and in giving Filipinos better lives.
So again, thank you for your support. More importantly, thank you for your hard work that has spanned more than a century.
And before I end, may I just really highlight a sample of the changes that are already happening? In Sta. Anna Hospital, they really built quite an impressive facility; and I’m sure most of us would have an opportunity to see: 10 stories, a new building, completely equipped, with a very energetic cadre of doctors, nurses, administrators. Everybody was just so upbeat. Mayor Lim was saying that they will be able to treat over a hundred thousand patients with this facility, where everything is free.
What is the difference? Was it not too long ago when you go to a government hospital that the common refrain was that they lacked everything? They lacked the doctors, they lacked the nurses, they lacked the medicine. Sometimes they even lacked the electricity to turn on the lights in these hospitals. Now we have an example of a cooperation between the national government and the local government unit. Focus on those who have the least, their burdens have been eased.
This is just one of the examples that I think I will have to highlight come the time for the State of the Nation Address in July. There is a lot of good news. Perhaps we still have to improve our ability, on our messaging, to get this across. But I’m sure in your respective communities you have already seen the changes.
Thank you. Good day. Mabuhay kayong lahat.