Press Release
March 27, 2023

Pia: we must do our best to provide competitive salaries for our healthcare personnel, close the gap in our need for more doctors, nurses, and other allied medical professionals

Highlights of Senator Pia S. Cayetano's opening remarks at the public inquiry of the Senate Committee on SDGs, Innovation, and Futures Thinking (SDGIFT)

Thank you for joining us today. This is the public hearing of the Committee on SDGs, Innovation, and Futures Thinking. It is now called to order.

In today's hearing, we will discuss Senate Resolution No. 536, which I filed together with the Majority Floor Leader, Sen. Joel Villanueva. The title of the resolution is: Resolution urging the Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, Innovation, and Futures Thinking to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the status of human resources for health in the Philippines.

We have a list of resource persons here. And I will acknowledge them as I call on them to speak. And I'd just like to give a short opening statement.

The Committee is hearing this because there are overlapping concerns here. This is not just a simple labor question. Obviously, we have a commitment to ensure or do our best so that we can keep improving the health systems in our country. And so that's SDG 3, Good Health and Wellbeing. And then there is SDG 8, on Decent Work and Economic Growth. We want our health workers and all those involved in the health sector to have decent work and that it contributes to economic growth.

To be clear, our provision in the existing law, the [Universal Health Care] Act, states that, "RA 11223 or the Universal Health Care Act mandates that the Department of Health, together with other stakeholders shall ensure the formulation and implementation of a national health human resource master plan that will provide policy and strategies for the appropriate generation, recruitment, retraining, regulation, retention, and reassessment of health workforce based on population health needs, and to ensure continuity in the provision of health programs and services. All health professionals and healthcare workers shall be guaranteed permanent employment and competitive salaries."

Let me stop there on that last phrase, "competitive salaries." It is a reality that our human health resources, from our doctors, nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, and many others, our scientists, are pretty much in demand all over the world. They are amazing at their jobs. They are well trained. And they have very bright futures in other countries. And, what we want to ensure here in the discussion is that we are mindful of their right to explore greener pastures, but we would really like the Philippines to be a pasture that they are also content and happy with. I think that is what our goal should really be.

Libre naman lahat. Kahit naman ako, nung after college, nag-explore din naman akong mag-aral at magtrabaho sa ibang bansa. It's just a thing that I think young people want to do. But in my case, as a lawyer, as a future lawyer, nag-decide ako na my future is in the Philippines. Pero for health workers, maganda talaga ang future din nila, ang offer sa kanila sa ibang bansa.

So this is what I'd like to start with. I know there will be lots of solutions. This is not just going to be the only hearing. There will be more hearings and technical working groups and consultations. There will be many solutions offered. And the Senate has done its part, Congress has done its part. We've heard different... of course the UHC Act itself is instrumental because it allowed... it provides a more, better career path in the sense that there is more funding for healthcare. So kahit ang mga doktor and other health professionals have earned a better living because of the laws that we've passed. From the Sin Tax Law, which requires that the proceeds go to the implementation of the UHC, and health facilities. Eh may doktor ka nga, wala naman siyang pagtatrabahuhan, wala namang health facilities, no? And also medical assistance.

So we have laws that we've passed that will improve healthcare. Let me mention another law, Doktor Para sa Bayan, my co-sponsor in this resolution, Sen. Joel and I, both worked and continue to work on the passage of that law, and now on the implementation.

But this is what I'd like to point out, when I say na "maraming possible solutions." So one solution, Doktor Para sa Bayan, precisely was to really encourage more students to take up the profession of becoming a medical doctor by having more schools available to them in different provinces, and by supporting these schools. Because gusto nga mag-doktor, ang layo naman sa kanila and congested na sa Metro Manila, wala nang chance na madagdagan pa yung capacity nila to absorb more students. So wala rin. So this law addresses that.

But what I'd like to point out is something that some consider sensitive and difficult to discuss, but we have to have these difficult conversations. Asaan ba ang need? Do we need more doctors, more nurses, more of those to enter the allied professions? I humbly submit that we need all, we need all. Nagkataon lang na ang batas na napasa is Doktor Para sa Bayan. But in the budget, and I handled the budget of both education and health, we've included provisions that will support enrollments in these other allied professions.

But that's what we need to discuss, kasi nasaan ba ang mga gaps? And ano bang profession ang kailangan natin i-tweak? Can we have the political will to change curriculums so that we can adapt to the need? So hindi na manggagaling sa akin. I will wait for it to come from the experts themselves. Kasi marami talaga akong narinig na solutions, including expanding the role of nurses na maging nurse practitioner, and so on and so forth.

So let's explore that because at the end of the day, we need to choose the best solutions and we need to act now. So I will leave it at that. Let me just put on record that my colleague, Sen. Joel Villanueva, has his opening statement, which he said to insert in the record. But allow me to just highlight a few things:

In July 2018, Sen. Joel co-sponsored the Universal Health Care for all Filipinos Act, and then this became RA 11223. And he emphasizes that currently, there is only one physician attending to the needs of an entire municipality with, say 20-30 barangays. So this is the sad reality that we are faced with. And as I mentioned, we passed the Doktor Para sa Bayan during the pandemic, with the desire to address that gap that we have. As of December 2021, the current ratio for doctors has improved to 3.7 per 10,000 population, compared to 2.6 at the time we were deliberating this. So let me just quote, " Thus, we cannot stress enough how important this hearing is largely because of the unprecedented nature of health emergencies and pandemics. We must devote all the time and efforts, and even the scarce resources that we can muster, because this issue is a matter of life and death." So I am inserting this entire speech of Sen. Joel Villanuebva into the record.

So on that note, we can proceed with our hearing. And one last administrative detail. Many of you are familiar faces. But for those who are new, I have some rules. I'd like this to be interactive. So speak candidly. Huwag niyo na ho akong basahan ng speech kasi pwede naman akong magbasa kapag hindi na tayo magkasama. I would prefer that you highlight the key points in your speech so that I can focus on it another time. But while we are here, I want you to really just emphasize the key points that you would like us to be aware of.

This hearing is online so the other senators will be able to watch it any other time. Also, although maiksi lang itong hearing because unfortunately, I have a very busy schedule today, when I have to cut it at 3 o'clock sharp, rest assured that there will be more time for interaction.

And, I think that was it. As much as I want it to be as interactive as possible, and I will try to accommodate quick remarks to any statement, I may not be as interactive as I'd like it to be just given that today is really tight. But I wanted to be sure that we could start this very important discussion so that while we are not in session for the entire month of April, we can work on it and hopefully when we resume, baka may ma-sponsor na tayo. Okay? Alright.

So let us start. And by the way, you are free to stand up anytime for a mobility break and hindi nga mahaba, but if you need to go to the CR, I am not strict about it. I will tell you who's next, so that makaka-ready kayo. Otherwise, feel free. And also we don't have PET bottles here, so we have supposedly... We are supposed to have a water dispenser. Can I just ask the page to ask who wants water so we can give them water pero no PET bottles please.

So we are ready to start. As I said, I will mention those present as we go along... We do have an international expert with us so with your indulgence, everyone, I appreciate the technology that allows us to speak... to invite international experts. So let's call him, this is Professor Sohail Inayatullah, who has so kindly graced my hearings in the past. Professor Sohail is UNESCO Chair in Futures Studies at the Sejahtera Centre for Sustainability and Humanity. Sohail, you have the floor, please go ahead.

Caption: Chairing the Senate inquiry on the state of the country's human resources for healthcare, Senator Pia S. Cayetano emphasized that aside from ensuring that there are enough doctors and nurses, the government must also work to fill the personnel gap for other allied medical professions.

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