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The Secretary’s Cup Debate Championship and Awarding Ceremony

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DATE: 
March 16, 2013

Kachina Room, Century Park Hotel, Manila
16 March 2013, Saturday, 05:00pm to 09:00pm

Good evening! I wish to congratulate all the participants and winners on the culmination of this first DOH Secretary's Cup. At the onset, I would like to thank the organizers of this event, and again salute the debaters, the guests, and everyone who made this series of events possible.
 
As we march forward in implementing major health reforms I can vouch to you an administration that is deeply committed to the attainment of Universal Health Care. Kalusugan Pangkalahatan, with its three major thrusts of financial risk protection particularly for the poor 50-60% of our people, facilities enhancement, and the attainment of the MDG targets especially protecting the poor for the families of our mothers and children. 
 
But what is Universal Health Care? What is Kalusugan Pangkalahatan? How do we understand these encompassing reforms into workable concepts that we can argue about, and ultimately build on a national consensus?
 
While it is extremely important to implement an idea, it is doubly difficult to communicate them, especially in a free wheeling market of numerous stakeholders. At the end, what is important is what our people feel and see as meaningful and crucial effects in their everyday lives. Unfortunately, health is often tangible only to most when we feel sickness in our body. As a concept, it is not something one can touch or grasp, unlike the food that we eat, the roads where we travel, or even the hospitals that display the symbol of Aesculapius. Sure, there are hospitals and health centers that we see, and these are signs of progress. But there are deeper issues in health today that go beyond the mundane understanding of “good health”, like building a responsive health system, which impact on the lives of Filipinos. For if a health system does not work, people get stuck in one side of the divide between wellness and illness; a cancer remains undiagnosed; a diabetic patient remains untreated. Health workers, such as nurses, who see their own careers and their families, may see going abroad merely as an opportunity of going abroad. But how do we convey to the wider public the deeper reasons, for example, of why towns remain doctorless on one hand, and cities where there are so many unemployed nurses? To appreciate these nuances, we have to talk to our people about health in its subtle as well as obvious ramifications in their daily lives.
 
On one hand, as the guardian of the health of our people, we too need to know what the people feel about our current healthcare system and the reforms we are trying to implement. For example, what does it mean to a family to have a PhilHealth card or to have PhilHealth benefits? Does it give them a sense of well-being, an assurance that whenever they go to sleep, that things will be alright, or at least bearable? When 'Kalusugan Pangkalahatan' is mentioned, are people hopeful, or are they cynical and think this is just another grandiose government promise? As for you, our students, who will ultimately be the future  health leaders of our country, what is your understanding and perception about our health care system, what are your aspirations and sentiments about it? We need to know these things, too, for you are all part of our health constituency. 
 
And this is where the Secretary's Cup comes in. It is a series of innovative “debate format” activities held during these past several months that has enabled us to talk about reforms in our health sector, cutting across various stakeholders. Communities from Abra to Zamboanga were heard about what they feel about health issues. For instance, I am told that in Nueva Ecija, the people expressed excitement about Kalusugan Pangkalahatan, saying that it will be a great help to people who are poor. On the other hand, the idea of universal health care was met with cynicism in some urban communities.
What they say means a lot to us because they give us a feel of what is truly happening in the street, in the field, and more so in the local government health care system.
 
Meanwhile, students from all over the country had their voices heard. From UP Los Banos to UP Miag-ao in Iloilo; from Siliman University in Dumaguete to Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, young minds shared their ideas, arguing for example, whether we should require UP medical graduates to serve their country for a compulsory three (3) years, or that all Filipinos should be automatically considered covered by Philhealth by virtue of their being a Filipino citizen. And today, we just heard the final debate on whether we should continue with a socialized funding tax-based health care system or a premium based personal health insurance system. These issues are all complex and what both sides agree on is that health reforms are not a fixed set of rules that we copy from one country for they are highly specific to the past experiences, the financial capacity and the unique circumstances of our nation. We must move forward carefully, assessing every step of the way, and be open to other ideas using the much quoted cliché “thinking out of the box”. For expressing your views eloquently and passionately, I congratulate the finalists of the Cup!
 
A unique feature of the Secretary's Cup is its recognition that health is not a matter for the Department of Health alone; it is a multi-institutional and inter-sectoral challenge. Four other cabinet secretaries became part of the Cup, with DBM Secretary Abad talking about health financing; DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman for health services; DOLE Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz for human resources, and DOST Secretary Mario Montejo on how technology can enhance our health system, particularly when it comes to health information systems and communication.
 
Finally, my predecessors spoke about their experiences, lessons learned or programs to be discarded, and I would like to personally thank them for supporting this effort. Dr. Alberto Romualdez, Jr. for health governance; Dr. Esperanza Cabral for health services; Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan for health human resources; and Dr. Francisco Duque III for health financing. As I have said before, the Secretary's Cup and this Kalusugan Pangkalahatan is a culmination of the collective efforts of previous administrations, and the Secretary's Cup has been an opportunity to show how committed we are all in our desire to attain better health for all our people.
 
Where do we go from here? The Secretary’s Cup is only the beginning. Considering the value of the dialogue that we have built through the Secretary’s Cup, I am pleased to announce that for the rest of this year 2013, we will be holding more health talks, with experts from various sectors – the private sector, the academe, the regulators, legislative staff, and many more! This will be part of a campaign entitled the Health System Shapers. And so with much gratitude to everyone who took part, and with much optimism about the activities that are yet to come, I end this year’s Secretary’s Cup. The debates may be over, but the conversation has just begun. May it continue until we achieve health for every Filipino! Mabuhay kayong lahat!