Press Release
May 6, 2021

Opening statement
By Senator Pia S. Cayetano
Vice Chair, Committee on Health and Demography
Public hearing of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography

Good afternoon, everyone.

On behalf of the Chairperson of the Committee on Health and Demography, this hearing is now called to order. I welcome everyone. This is a joint committee hearing with the Committee on Finance.

Just for the record, the Chairperson of the Committee on Health, Sen. Bong Go, who is also present, has asked for my assistance to hear some of these measures in the Committee on Health. And we started with a set of hearings a few days ago. I'll update you because those hearings are also connected to these hearings.

Let me acknowledge the presence of the three senators, Sen. Go, Sen. Marcos, and Sen. Hontiveros. And let me explain the flow of these hearings today. So there are 9 bills categorized into 3 different topics. They are the bills on the: (1) National Security Act and related thereto; (2) bills on the Medical Reserve Corps, and then the (3) bills on the creation of a Center for Disease Control.

So those are three separate topics but they all fall under the umbrella of national health security. And that is why I decided to hear them all together today. We will not go into the details of each one today, because it will take too much time to go through the details of each. But, what I really want to accomplish today is to see the importance of having a national health security plan, to be prepared, and what are the integral components, infrastructure or systems, that go into this.

Based on the bills filed, it would also be the creation of a CDC and a Medical Reserve Corps. That's why these are the bills that we're hearing today.

I also want to emphasize that the hearing I had earlier... we had hearings on health infrastructure. This included basic healthcare and also the importance of investing in what was already started a few decades ago, the specialty healthcare systems.

I am aware that there were previous discussions because there was already a hearing on health on the Medical Reserve Corps Act. I am aware that there were some reservations on this bill, specifically stating that we should instead emphasize our basic healthcare systems. I'd like to put on record that I am all for that. I am all for strengthening the basic healthcare system. There is nothing in these bills that justify in any way a neglect of a basic healthcare system.

So, I understand that given the limited resources, there would be a concern that every time we focus on something else, it will take away from these basic healthcare. And I understand that concern and it is a very valid concern. But that is why my request to Sec.Galvez in particular, and of course to DOH, represented by Usec. Vergeire, would be to tell us how our current systems work, such that do our institutions coordinate like clockwork? Such that if there is a pandemic, as we have experienced, ganun ba kadali mag-pull out ng staff, ng health personnel from one institution at ilipat sa kabila? Kasi from everything I've heard, that does not happen easily. And that is the concept of the medical reserves, na madali kang mag-pull out, madali kang mag-deploy, doon sa areas na kinakailangan ang health specialists mo. So without that, even if we strengthen the basic, it is not going to happen overnight na makakapag-pull out ka lang nang basta-basta.

So that is the underlying principle behind the medical reserves act, which I happen to be one of the authors and therefore I have a little bit of understanding of that bill.

On that note, before I proceed... I also want to emphasize that the reason this is very important to me is also because I currently chair the Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, Innovation, and Futures Thinking. And as you know, SDG 3 is Good health. And futures thinking dictates that we plan. If we do not plan, we will not wake up one day and have a health system that is responsive to the possibilities of different health crises arising. We will not have it. It will not appear overnight.

So it is very important that these systems and facilities are in place. Obviously, we'd like to take off from the lessons we've learned over the year under the leadership of Sec. Galvez. The National Health Security Act somehow reflects what they are doing in IATF, which is making use of the whole of government approach, whole of society approach, so the input of Sec. Galvez will be very important here.

Futures thinking-wise, I'd like to point out that we act as if this caught us by surprise. Of course, infectious disease doctors, epidemiologists would tell us that, just like Bill Gates' talk in 2015, there was no surprise about it. The world was just unprepared for the outbreak... I've been following Bill Gates as a futures thinker. So that is really a philosophy that I'd like to embed in our planning.

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