Press Release
May 29, 2020

Senate Health Committee puts focus on mental health concerns amidst COVID-19 pandemic, Bong Go supports amendments to Mental Health Act

Recognizing the importance of mental health amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Senator and Chair of Senate Committee on Health and Demography Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go presided over a committee hearing to tackle Senate Bill 1471 that seeks to amend Republic Act 11036 or the Mental Health Act.

In a virtual hearing on Thursday, May 28, Senator Go emphasized that people's mental health should be valued, especially during times of crisis, adding that many individuals these days are experiencing varying forms of depression, particularly among overseas Filipino workers and their families.

"In this time of pandemic, we should also ensure that mental health is valued, promoted and protected. Aside from physical health, 'yung mental health importante po, napaka-importante," Go said in his opening statement.

"Marami pong nade-depress dahil sa sitwasyon ngayon. In fact, nakakalungkot ang mga OFWs natin, napakatagal na napalayo sa kanilang pamilya. Alam ninyo, hindi nababayaran 'yung lungkot. Napakahirap mapalayo sa pamilya," Go said.

Senator Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara, principal author of SB 1471, said that he aims to amend the Mental Health Act after former soldier Winston Ragos was fatally shot by police officers last April 21, and was said to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Si Ragos... He was not able to take his monthly medication. He suffered some war shock serving in the military... We'd like to amend Section 5 of the Mental Health Law or Republic 11036 and to add [another] section... Para hindi na po maulit ang mga ganoong insidente kasi ang conclusion seems to be, had he had access to his medicines, perhaps the incident could've been prevented and he would've acted in a different manner," Angara said.

The bill aims to amend the existing Section 5 of the Mental Health Act by inserting a new provision so that the service user shall "immediately receive compensation benefits and/or any special financial assistance that the service user is entitled to under existing laws should the service user sustain temporary or permanent mental disability while in the performance of duty or by reason of his or her office or position."

During the committee hearing, Senator Go asked the resource persons, composed mostly of mental health experts, about the services that are being done to safeguard the people's psychological wellbeing during the global health crisis, especially for OFWs.

Dr. Napoleon Arevalo said that the mental health hotline launched by the National Center for Mental Health is one initiative that aims to reach out to Filipinos who are suffering from mental health issues during the pandemic.

"To date, we are providing services to our compatriots by way of our hotline which was launched by the National Center for Mental Health. Meron po tayong hotline na pinapalaganap para sila ay magkaroon ng mental health services. It's not only limited to the government service providers for mental health and psychosocial support," Arevalo said.

Dr. Roland Cortez of the NCMH also added that there has been a sharp increase in calls since the lockdown measures, citing that this is clear evidence that people are experiencing higher levels of stress during the pandemic.

"We have a crisis hotline that is open 24/7�. which is being bombarded with calls. Actually we only had about 60 to 80 calls before the COVID-19 issue. But when we started to have this lockdown, we now have 300-400 calls. Meaning to say, there are a lot of people wanting to communicate with experts in the crisis hotline," Cortez said.

Dr. Cortez also added that the NCMH has been working with other agencies to look after the mental wellbeing of Filipinos, including OFWs in distress who have returned home.

"We are also happy to inform the general public that we are in support of other agencies where our teams are called to evaluate our OFWs who are experiencing some degree of problems, mentally. Our teams are actually there to support all these agencies that need our interventions and evaluation," Cortez said.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary Teresita S. Cucueco of the Department of Labor and Employment said that they fully support the legislative measure, adding that their agency also helps in alleviating mental health conditions of people at work through compensation benefits.

"The DOLE fully supports the bill as work-relatedness of mental health conditions have long been proven� We just also want to manifest to the body that the Employees Compensation Commission of the DOLE can also provide compensation benefits for workers who may experience mental health conditions: stress at work, conditions at work that may lead to these mental health conditions and affect the workers," Cucueco said.

Ending the committee hearing, Senator Go said that he will take note and consider all the points raised by the resource persons in drafting the committee report to further strengthen the country's response to the pandemic, citing that the health of every Filipino is of utmost importance.

"With or without COVID-19, napakimporante ng health, kalusugan po ng bawat Pilipino... Let me reiterate, let us learn from this pandemic and work together to strengthen our health care system and to better provide quality health care to our people," Go said.

Aside from the mental health amendment bill filed by Senator Angara, other bills that were also tackled during the same hearing were SB 1132 filed by Senator Ralph Recto, requiring all public hospitals to prepare and implement a hospital site development plan; and SB 1437 of Senator Ramon Revilla and SB 1095 of Senator Manuel Lapid strengthening the regulation of health facilities in the country.

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