An auspicious start for healthBy Rafael Castillo M.D.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Health-wise, things look good for the coming year. We can’t have a more auspicious start than this. The ‘sin tax’ bill has just been signed into law five days before Christmas, and anytime soon, President Aquino is expected to sign the approved reproductive health (RH) bill into yet another law.
During P-Noy’s signing of the sin tax law last Dec. 20, the ceremonial hall of the Palace was filled with health advocates who all felt a different high with the “fruit” of all their hardships and sacrifices. It took something like 15 years for the country to finally have such a law, which is not only lifesaving but also offers a financial windfall which can improve the health condition of many underprivileged Filipinos who can benefit from their universal healthcare coverage. What seemed to be an impossible dream before of ensuring every Filipino—even the poorest of the poor—adequate access to at least basic healthcare now appears achievable.
It was a perfect example how teamwork—within the government system (particularly the health and finance departments), the health sector with more than 40 medical and nursing organizations signing in to staunchly advocate for the bill, various civil society organizations especially the Action for Economic Reforms, and the media which made sure everything was reported and made transparent—could harness such a potent force that could crush whatever legislative roadblock and formidable lobbying from the industry there might have been.
The gestation period for the bill might have taken 15 years, but most of the major hurdles happened in the last three months. Everything happened so fast the (tobacco and alcohol) industries probably didn’t know what hit them.
It seemed like it was all providential. He may not realize it, but Sen. Ralph Recto actually indirectly played a key role in the final passage of the bill. The public outcry resulting from his watered-down version of the bill provided the threshold-point activation which became a call to action for all the pro-sin tax groups to unite in fighting for the bill in various forums and media.
Credit goes to all the health advocates in the government, the Senate and the House—especially Sen. Frank Drilon whose taking up the cudgels for the bill when he was appointed acting chair of the ways and means committee was game-changing, for the civil society including the medical and allied organizations and the media. Two doctors also stand out as real champions for the bill as they advocated for it as martyrs would. These are the two Tonys—Doctors Tony Leachon and Tony Dans. Many in the medical community know the sacrifices they have done, the initial frustrations they have shared, and their unwavering commitment to fight for the bill no matter what it took. They deserve to be commended for their valiant efforts and unwavering dedication.
The RH bill also had its equal share of champions who staunchly advocated for the bill till the very end. Three ladies instantly come to mind—Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Pia Cayetano, and former health chief and lead convenor of the Purple Ribbon for RH Movement Espie Cabral. Just as in the sin tax struggle, teamwork of the government, civil society and the private sector spelled the winning formula.
Understandably, the debates were more acrimonious, with both pro- and anti-RH groups digging in to fight for their side. The bitter and almost spiteful debates only muddled the issues further. Hopefully now the real bottom lines of the approved RH bill would surface and be better appreciated—that it’s a measure that offers everyone, especially the poor, access to modern family planning methods, so women and their partners can have a well-informed choice on the number of children they want and can afford to support. It also educates the citizens on sexual health so unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases could be prevented.
The sin tax and RH laws are no doubt landmark laws like no other. They are wonderful gifts for the Filipino people especially at a time like this. They may have come late—something like 13 to 15 years later from the time they were originally proposed—but it’s better late than never. Perhaps, if it’s any consolation to the advocates, the final versions of the laws have additional updated features which would not have been included had they been signed into law much earlier.
But just like any law—which we have a lot of—the crucial point is again in the implementation. An excellent law is meaningless unless it’s properly implemented. And so, once the euphoria for the final signing of the new sin tax and RH laws settles down, everyone will eagerly watch and monitor the laws’ implementation, which as we know, is an entirely different story.
Meanwhile, we wish you all another blessed and wonderful year. And may everyone continue to reap bountifully God’s blessings of good health, happiness, peace of mind and prosperity.