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Commencement Address of Secretary Enrique T. Ona Master in Public Management Major in Health System and Development Program and Doctors to the Barrios Program

October 20, 2012

Development Academy of the Philippines, Tagaytay City

Greetings (VIPs)

The enthusiasm and energy I see today in all of you, our doctors to the barrios, reassures me that not only is there hope for the health sector, but our dream of Kalusugan Pangkalahatan or universal health care is well on its way to becoming a reality. I am happy to be in the midst of you, our very young public health enthusiasts who will be steering the future of public health in the country.

While today we primarily celebrate the accomplishments of our 38 doctors graduating with the degree of Master in Public Management Major in Health System and Development Program, allow me first to congratulate our awardees and our honorees and our magagaling becauseI also find it opportune to address our 113 new recruits as well as our 72 doctors who have been serving our communities for the past year.

On behalf of a grateful nation, I thank all of you for devoting two years of your lives to serve our people. The path you have chosen, admittedly, will demand much more from you. Days, weeks or even years or  months will pass before you get to see your family and loved ones. The familiar comforts of the city, which many of you are used to, will be replaced by the rugged unknown of the 5th and 6th class municipalities which will be your home for the next two years.

Let me say something about myself. I was only 6 months old when my family, my parents landed in Mindanao,Pagadian, Zamboanga del Sur. I grew up accompanying my father,who was a physician, the first municipal health officer of that town, doing the rounds in the barrios, in circumstances that I would consider very similar to the communities you have served for the graduates, and others who are going to start, that you will be serving. For a time, all those years, most of the babies born in that small townthen of Pagadian were delivered by my mother, a nurse, a puericulture center nurse.And many times, the presence of a doctor meant the difference between life and death in that community.And I am proud that my father was the one who served through those years.

The road will not be easy, but the journey has its rewards. No doubt, your communities will adopt you as one of their own and pamper you in their little way, in their humble way. Experiences, both good and bad, will give color to your tours of duty. You will find fulfillment, however, in every patient you treat, comfort, and hopefully heal.

Most of you, who are in the late twenties or early thirties, are starting your careers. Some of you may be grappling with questions, essentially in the quest to find oneself.Paraphrasing the great Mahatma Gandhi, let this be your chance to be lost in serving others, in order to find yourselves.

I congratulate our 38 doctors who have been conferred the degree of Masters in Public Management major in Health System and Development Program. This course honed your skills in critically examining health and development issues and concerns confronting health professionals in the public sector at the national and local level. Your studies gave you a clear understanding of the causes and factors that bear on health and development issues and concerns. Completing this course allowed you to polish and apply leadership and management strategies in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluating health policies, programs, projects and interventions.

I thank the Development Academy of the Philippines Graduate School of Public and Development Management for working with the Department of Health in capacitating our doctors with relevant post-graduate education that will help them live out the principles of effective and efficient health governance. I am confident that our graduates will be making waves in whatever field of medicine they will choose to pursue.

Our doctors’ passion and commitment to service must be equally matched by government’s support to the health sector.

I am happy and proud to be a part of an administration steadfast in  significantly improve the health of our people.

Under the President’s leadership,Kalusugan Pangkalahatan, or universal health care, is a vital component of inclusive growth – which is economic growth that integrates most of our people in our economic and social maninstream and hopefully reduces mass poverty.

The President’s resolve for better health is best highlighted in the dramatic surge in public funds appropriated for health care. From P 30.4 billion in 2010, our budget, including that of attached agencies and specialty hospitals, increased to P33.2 billion in 2011, and rose further to P 44.1 billion in 2012. For 2013, we are proposing P 54.6 billion to fund Kalusugan Pangkalahatan. This is an almost eighty percent increase compared to when we started in 2010.

The President has also pledged that the incremental increases in the excise taxes of tobacco and alcohol products shall fund universal health care. The sin tax bill, passed by the House of Representatives and now pending in the Senate, will generate an estimated P 40-60 billion in its first year of implementation, 85% of which will fund universal health care. This is the shot in the arm our health care system has long needed.

You may not have realized it now, but the steps the DOH are now undertaking in the pursuit of KP will have far-reaching consequences in how health care is being delivered to our people.  In automatically enrolling the 5.2 million poorest families to PhilHealth, we have given financial risk protection to the poorest 20% of our population or the so-called Q1. These families are now entitled to no-balance billing or walang dagdag bayad when admitted to government hospitals. They can also avail the primary care benefits in rural health units and selected district hospitals. With the passage of the sin tax, we will be able to cover another 5 million families or Q2 to PhilHealth. In rehabilitating and enhancing our government hospitals, rural health units and barangay health stations, we are banishing the stereotype of decay and deficiency associated with these facilities. With strengthened public health services, such as the deployment of community health teams, RN Heals and the introduction of new vaccines such as rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines for our children, we will meet our health related Millennium Development Goals of reducing infant, child and maternal mortality.

The extent by which our people will find KP meaningful to their lives will depend on our health workers in the frontlines.  You, our doctors, will be our KP poster boys and girls. You will translate the policies of the Central Office into actual health services our countrymen will receive.

We recognize that much has to be done in our pursuit of KP. Many of our NHTS poor families have yet to be informed of their PhilHealth benefits. We need to bridge the gap between PhilHealth’s report of 85% coverage and the reports of our hospitals claiming that 20-30% of their patients are PhilHealth members. Due in part to a devolved system with autonomous local governments, we are having difficulties in the implementation of our Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP). There are delays in bidding, procurement and ultimately, utilization of HFEP funds. The initial results of our CHT mobilization on the ground are mixed at best. As front liners, you can be of great help in helping us gauge the extent of KP’s progress. You are at good position to advise us how best to fine tune the implementation of our key programs.

At the same time, we recognize that you, our front liners, need all the support you can get from the Central Office. Our HFEP fund for 2013 has been increased, a significant portion of which will be used to upgrade our rural health units to ensure that these are capable to be PhilHealth accredited in providing theso-called 3-in-1 services of maternal care package, TB and outpatient benefits. Accreditation to PhilHealth will also allow the facility to earn extra income from capitation. We are in fact proposing that all professional fees paid by PhilHealth shall accrue exclusively to the physicians as additional incentive.

I have stressed the need to restore the regulatory and supervisory control of the Department of Health, neglected through the years in the guise of devolution, especially in implementing programs using national government funds such as the HFEP. While these are mostly grants to local governments, as DOH money, we have the ultimate responsibility to ensure that these are used efficiently, effectively and in a timely manner.

Before the end of this year, we will hire an additional 106 doctors to the barrios like you to completely close the gap and declare that the so-called “doctorless municipalities” is a thing of the past.

In the long run however, we want to change the mindset of our local government units, from passive recipients of “dole outs” from the DOH to active partners who will provide their rightful share to ensure the sustainability of their local health systems. Partnership of the local and national governments should be the way to go.

The role of the doctors to the barrios in making the dream of universal health care is invaluable. In this regard, I wish to invite maybe one of you to join us or join me in the office in the Department of Health. Rest assured that we are behind you 100%. Please do not hesitate to contact your regional directors, cluster heads and even the Office of the Secretary for any major concerns. I have my executive assistant here and you can have his cellphone.

Today’s occasion reminds me of a saying of the great sage Rabindranath Tagore: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” To our doctors to the barrios, may you find that joy in service and that you may bring this joy to the people you will serve.

Thank you and good evening to all of you.