Press Release
May 2, 2017


Mr. President, I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege.

Sa tuwing umiikot ako sa mga probinsya, lalo na sa mga malalayo at liblib na lugar, paulit ulit kong nadidinig ang isang daing: kakapusan na serbisyong pang-medikal at kakulangan ng doktor. Hindi pa man ako senador noon, isa sa mga usapin na pinangako ko sa aking sarili na isusulong, ay ang usapin ng rural health. Tiyak ko na ang ating Chairperson sa Committee on Health na si Senator JV Ejercito ay ganito din ang saloobin. Plain and simple - we need more health professionals to go to the countryside and tend to the health needs of our fellow Filipinos who live far away from the gleaming hospitals of the Capital.

And when we do get health professionals who, despite the high costs of medical education in this country, are willing to serve our poor and marginalized kababayan in rural areas, they deserve more than accolades --- Mr. President, they deserve full protection.

Kung kaya po, Mr. President, I rise today to call the attention of our government to a troubling pattern that if left unchecked threatens to undermine all our efforts to improve the health status of our poor and marginalized countrymen in rural areas.

Exactly 2 weeks ago, on April 18, Dr. Shahid "Jaja" Sinolinding, an ophthalmologist in Cotabato City and his companion was gunned down in his clinic by a yet to be identified assailant who pretended to be his patient. While there has been some progress in the investigation, we are nowhere near in uncovering the truth behind this incident and bringing the perpetrator to justice.

As a practicing eye physician, Dr. Sinolinding was known for his generosity. A native of North Cotabato, he was said to have treated the eye problems of thousands of poor patients from the different provinces of the in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) for free. He volunteered in several ARMM sponsored outreach programs reaching out and serving the poor and marginalized communities in the region who rarely had access to health services. Dr. Jaja, as he is fondly known, has touched many lives and if not for this deplorable act, would have surely touched and served a lot more. Nakikiramay ako sa kanyang mga naulila: ang kanyang mga kapamilya, mga kaibigan, at mga kapatid sa ARRM na nawalan ng isang kapita-pitagang manggagamot.

What is even more tragic is that Dr. Sinolinding is the second "barrio-doctor" to be murdered in a space of two months, following the death of Dr. Dreyfuss "Drey" Perlas, a 31-year old doctor from Aklan province who, after his 2-year stint in the Doctors-to-the-Barrios Program (DTTB) of the DOH chose to stay as the Municipal Health Officer of the Sapad town, a fifth-class municipality in Lanao Del Norte out of a genuine desire to continue serving the community that he had come to love. Dr. Drey was brutally gunned down while riding a motorcycle on his way home from a medical mission and his attackers remain at-large. I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Drey when I became the graduation speaker of his batch in Doctor's to the Barrios batch 3 years ago. These doctors could have gone the usual route to establish a profitable medical practice in the big cities but instead, they chose a life of service, offering their talents and skills to help in healing poor Filipinos in communities where health care is underprovided. Meeting a group of young doctors with infectious enthusiasm and passion to serve communities in far flung areas was a moving experience, and Dr. Drey and his batchmates left me feeling both grateful to them and optimistic for the future.

Mr. President, these acts of violence committed on our doctors and other health professionals serving rural areas must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. It is imperative that the perpetrators of these heinous acts are caught and be made to face our justice system as swiftly as possible given its far-reaching implications. We call upon our law enforcement agencies to act quickly for the speedy resolution of these cases. I cannot begin to imagine the anguish of their loved ones. Nakikiisa ako sa mga inulila nila.

But there is a fundamental point I want to make this afternoon, Mr. President. The attacks on Dr. Jaja and Dr. Drey are attacks not just on these individual doctors. It is an attack on the community which depend on these doctors and health professionals for their health care needs; it is an attack on the entire health sector and our collective aspirations to achieve better health for all Filipinos. Mabigat ang mga sakripisyo na dinaranas ng ating ang mga health workers. We salute their silent sacrifice in helping solve our country's health problems and I believe we should do more to look out after them.

The gravity of these murders and the heroism of the health workers who serve our communities must be put in its proper context. For the longest time, the country has experienced a shortage of health workers. The current ratio of health worker to population according to the DOH stands at around 17.2 health workers per 10,000 people -- way short of the ideal ratio of 44 health workers per 10,000 people. Seven out of ten Filipinos die without having been seen by a doctor. The poorest quintile of our population will have to travel more than 40 minutes to go to a health facility. The situation is more acute in in rural areas given the maldistribution of health professionals. Majority of them concentrate in urban areas where there are more lucrative opportunities, or even overseas, leaving our health facilities in the rural centers under-manned and the public health workers there over-utilized and over-burdened.

Mr. President, kaunti na nga lang ang doctor at mga health workers na naninilbihan sa kanayunan ay hindi pa natin sila maalagaan ng tama. Paano natin sasabihin sa atin mga doktor, mga nurses, mga dentista, at sa iba pang mga health workers na mag-lingkod sa mga mamayan sa probinsya at mga pamayanan kung ang pamahalaan ay di pala sila kayang protektahan at pangalagaan.

Mr. President, before we went on recess last month, I filed Senate Resolution No. 310 which sought to look into the death of Dr. Dreyfuss Perlas and together with our esteemed colleague, Senator Gordon manifested on the floor our indignation over his death. Last week, I filed Senate Resolution 321 which similarly seeks to condemn this deplorable act, and more importantly, to conduct an inquiry on the deaths of these 2 "barrio doctors" with the objective of identifying measures and mechanisms to ensure the safety and well-being of all health workers particularly those serving in rural areas.

Ako ay nananawagan sa aking mga kasamahan sa Senado na mas maging pursigido pa sa paghahanap ng hustisya para kay Dr. Jaja at Dr. Drey at sa pangangalaga sa kapakanan ng ating mga manggagawang pangkalusugan.

Mr. President, let us take better care of those who are taking care of us.

Maraming salamat po.

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