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Keynote Speech of Secretary Enrique T. Ona, MD, FPCS, FACS - Graduation of the University of Perpetual Help - Dr. Jose Tamayo G. Tamayo Medical University

May 16, 2012


SMX Convention Center


A pleasant morning to every one!

Before anything else, I would like to thank the administrators and officials of the University of Perpetual Help- Dr. Jose G. Tamayo Medical University for this invitation. I am honored to speak in front of young and promising minds on their graduation day, hopefully to inspire them to work for our country.

First of all, congratulations are in order. Congratulations to the graduates of the Dr. Jose G. Tamayo Medical University. You deserve it. After all those years you have spent studying: reading books, studying for exams, doing projects, and other things that students have to endure, you have made it. While many challenges and obstacles lie ahead in your journey, you deserve this moment because of you have worked hard for it.

Also, we should not forget our professors and teachers who toiled in giving you the gift of knowledge. May you always remember to appreciate their labor of love in educating your young minds so that you will have a better future. Let us give them hand to show our appreciation.

Most importantly, congratulations to the parents and families of our wonderful graduates. No graduation will be complete without the hard-working parents who labored every single day to make sure that you students have “baon” everyday and that you have the proper provisions for your education; hard-working parents who sacrificed their own little joys for today so that you can have a better tomorrow through your education. You deserve this moment as much as the graduates. Let us all give ourselves a round of applause.

Your graduation could not have come at a better time. Things are certainly looking for our country in more ways than one. We have made great strides as a people in the past 2 years under the leadership of our very hard-working President, P-Noy. Our economy is looking good, our people have renewed hope and vigor to lend a helping hand in rebuilding our nation. Daybreak has again come to this country thanks to the administration's determination to reduce poverty and restore confidence through good governance.

They say that the shortest distance from one point to the other is through a straight line. In the same vein, the government believes that the quickest way to progress is through a “daang matuwid” or straight path. And that’s why we are doing everything to ensure that everything is in keeping with this straight path. Gone are the days when leaders view their office as a means to perpetuate themselves; gone are the days when people sneer at their leaders with distrust and contempt. From simple things such as removing the “wang-wang” in the streets to more complex things such as improving tax collection and improving the efficiency of government spending, “Daang matuwid” is at the heart of everything in good governance and about what this administration is trying to do.

Several social commentators have mentioned how much corruption is ingrained in the Filipino psyche. It appears to permeate all levels of Filipino interaction. We have an image of a politician who gets “cuts” from government projects and a picture of an ordinary traffic enforcer who receives bribes from traffic violators who want to be let off the hook for minor roadside infractions. I cannot stress enough how harmful this behavior is in our effort to move out of the rut of poverty. Year in, year out, the government loses a lot of money on graft and corruption as well as sheer inefficiency. It loses money it could have spent for better healthcare, better classrooms, among others. The Government is committed to fighting corruption at levels because fighting corruption is the only way we can fight poverty and move forward. Indeed, Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.

While our economy is steadily improving, the real challenge is to reduce the widening gap between the rich and the poor in this country. What we want is inclusive growth which simply means that the fruits of our economic improvement also reach our poorest countrymen, so that no one gets left behind as we move forward. The government is working hard to generate jobs and to provide an enabling environment to give everyone an opportunity to improve their lives and the lives of their families. 

Several programs of government are focused on the plight of the marginalized Filipinos to ensure that they share the benefits of economic growth. Hundreds of infrastructure projects such as roads, school building, hospitals, irrigation, among others, which are all targeted for the poorest families, are currently underway. 

In terms of health care, we are pursuing reforms in the health system to improve the access of our poorest countrymen to quality health care. At the beginning of his term, the President issued a challenge to us in the health sector, “what can we do about the 30-40% of Filipinos who die without ever seeing a doctor?” Responding to this challenge has been our mantra; it is the inspiration for our government’s agenda of Kalusugang Pangkalahatan, KP or Universal Health Care.  


Government recognizes the value of health as a component of inclusive growth. Diseases and illnesses have the capability to stunt progress. I’m sure you’ve seen how people react to sickness in their families. More often than not, everything stops and all the resources even the ones for food and educated are channeled to medical expenses. What’s worse when it’s the breadwinner who gets sick because the family will lose income from the loss of productivity. We see KP as a strategy to reduce poverty. After all, healthy citizens who are well protected from the debilitating and impoverishing effects of illness are in a better position to battle their own poverty and to contribute to our nation’s progress.

Through KP, we are trying to respond to the challenges. First, through universal health insurance coverage, we want to give poorest Filipino families the means to afford basic health care.  To do this, we have to expand PhilHealth coverage of the poorest families. Last year, we enrolled 5.3 million of the Filipino families identified by the DSWD’s National Household Targeting System using full government subsidy. These were the same families which have been neglected in the past.  This year, we intend to enroll the poorest 40% of our population or around 40 million Filipinos mainly through National Government’s funds and with the help of our local government units. We will be using revenues generated from the proposed bill on the restructuring of the excise tax on alcohol and tobacco.  

You have to understand that in order for this to work is that everyone must be enrolled. PhilHealth is a social health insurance scheme based on equity and solidarity. It allows the rich and the healthy to finance the health needs of the poor and the ill.

Apart from improving coverage, we need to improve the benefits being provided by PhilHealth. Based on the latest study, the support value of PhilHealth stands at 30%. This means on an average only 30% of the hospital bill are covered by PhilHealth. But we are working hard to change this. We have introduced what we call the Case Rates Scheme which entails that PhilHealth will pay all-in for 23 of the most common medical and surgical conditions. 

The benefit of the Case Rates Scheme of PhilHealth is underscored when the member belongs to the sponsored program.  For these indigent patients who admitted in government hospitals, the No Balance Billing or Walang Dagdag Bayad will apply to them. They do not need to shell out a single centavo for their hospitalization. For example, for an uncomplicated case of Dengue Fever, PhilHealth will pay Php 8,000 for the admission which is inclusive of the hospital stay, medicines, and even professional fees.  Some other cases which you are undoubtedly familiar with include appendectomies, dilation and curretage, cholecystectomy, cerebrovascular diseases, and others.

 Also in the pipeline is the establishment of a health fund for catastrophic illnesses such as selected cancers, acute cardiac events, end-stage renal diseases, among others. These illnesses which are completely out of reach of most of our countrymen. Currently in the pipeline as well is the development of Out Patient Packages which will allow patients to use their health insurance for their consults and some maintenance medications.  

These reforms seek to make PhilHealth responsive to the needs of all our people. Through these we hope to effectively remove the concept of “charity patients” because PhilHealth provide cover for every Filipino’s basic health care needs.  Hopefully, this is only one of the many steps in the right direction in uplifting the quality of care that each Filipino rightfully deserves.

On the flipside of course is improving the state of government health facilities all over the country; our rural health units, district hospitals, provincial and our DOH medical centers which are in various stages of disrepair and poorly equipped. Perhaps you know what I mean. Think of a government hospital and I suppose the first thing you will imagine are old dilapidated buildings, cramped ward rooms with patient sharing rusty hospital beds. If you think of that, you’re not far off because most of our government hospitals appear exactly like that. But we’re changing that because we know our poor countrymen who rely on government facilities deserve better health care.

In the past 2 years, we have allotted significant amount of funds to assist local government units in improving rural health units, health centers, and hospitals. We want to improve better infrastructure and more importantly modern equipment which will aid better diagnosis and treatment of cases. We are also improving our DOH retained tertiary hospitals stocking them with modern diagnostic equipment such as CT Scan, X-rays, MRIs, ultrasound machines, among others. Through public-private partnerships or PPPs, we are planning to completely overhaul over 30 DOH Medical Centers to make them at par with the well equipped private hospitals in the country.

Of course, these equipment and spanking new facilities will mean nothing without competent health workers. We are addressing this already to our RNheals program where we deployed over 22,000 nurses in DOH hospitals and far-flung municipalities all over the country. We have the Doctors to the Barrios program which provides much needed physicians to doctor-less municipalities in the country. You are very welcome to join these programs and I am very hopeful that some of you here will volunteer to serve in these communities. 

On the ground, we are training what we call the Community Health Teams which are essentially your frontline Health Workers, for deployment to conduct door-to-door health assessment and render public health services and data recording for all Filipino families. They will go house to house to deliver essential public health services such as vaccines, family planning, pregnancy monitoring, education on healthy lifestyles, information of PhilHealth entitlements among others, right at the living rooms of Filipino families. These are all being done as part of our commitment to achieve our Millennium Development Goals for Health.

Speaking of our Millennium Development Goals, I am very happy to tell you that we are on track to achieve all of our MDG targets except for our goal on the reduction of maternal mortality where we are faced with a number of challenges. We believe that mothers dying unnecessarily during the act of giving life is truly unacceptable. The government is committed and I believe we will be able to achieve significant reduction of maternal deaths before 2015. One strategy that we will employ is that of responsible parenthood. It has been said women who are at an increased risk for maternal death are those with mistimed and unplanned pregnancies. A lot of these can be reduced if we make sure that parents are empowered to plan for their families by having access to information and the services for them to do so. Studies have shown that our women, especially the very poor, want to plan their families but are unable to do so. These women have what we call an unmet need for family planning. They will be our priority. Our target is to reduce unmet need among the poorest families by half and this translates to providing access to about 1.1 million families by the end of 2012.  Certainly, House Bill 4244 which is currently pending in the house will boost our efforts in empowering Local Government Units to pursue responsible parenthood programs in their localities. We call on the Congress to pass this piece of legislation as soon as possible.

Another priority bill that we are strongly supporting is the Bill on the Restructuring the Excise Tax on Tobacco and Alcohol also known as the Sin Tax Bill which I mentioned earlier.  This has just been approved in the Committee and will now be subject to the discussions in the Plenary of Congress. This bill will increase the taxes, and therefore increase prices for “sin” products such as tobacco and alcohol. With higher prices, we hope that these products will be out of reach for our youth so they will not become addicted to these vices which have been consistently shown to have adverse effects on the health of human beings.  More importantly, the bulk of the revenue that will be generated from this measure is earmarked for the implementation of the Kalusugan Pangkalahatan or KP, particularly to finance the premium subsidy of the poorest Filipinos.  This bill will surely boost all our efforts to achieve universal health care.

My dear graduates, our country is on the right track. The past two years have seen unparalleled progress in our country and indeed the future is bright. These are exciting times for our country and whether you like or not, you will become part of it. I sincerely hope that as aspiring health care professionals, you do your part and exert a positive influence in making the vision of a modern, prosperous, and healthy Philippines a reality.

Before I end, allow me to give my personal advice: study even harder! It may seem strange to you that I am calling on you to study harder on the day of your graduation. But trust me it is not. You are health care professionals. Our career is built on life-long learning. Study even harder. Learn from your superiors, your colleagues, and your subordinates. Constantly update yourself with the latest developments and trends in our field. Love your profession by valuing your education as you go through your career. After all, by becoming the best health care professionals that you can be, you are not only helping yourself but your country as well.

Thank you and congratulations.