Message at the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) – NCR Zone 1 Annual Convention and Scientific Meeting
Winford Hotel and Casino, Sta. Cruz, City of Manila

Maraming salamat po. Maupo po tayong lahat. Governor Rosie de Leon; President Analyn Salivio; Doctor Gian Carlo Torres, the overall chair of the 39th PNA-NCR Zone 1 Annual Convention; past presidents, the national officers, board of directors and the other officers of the other PNA chapters who are here; my dear nurses; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen, isang maulan na umaga sa ating lahat. [applause]

Akala ko po hindi mapupuno iyong hall kasi sobrang lakas ng ulan at sobrang grabe ng traffic. Pero iyong nurses yata, sanay talaga sa mahirap—[Audience: “Yes!”] [applause]—kaya nandito lahat.

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak before you this morning. Your topic on “going beyond healthcare to health” is very timely in our country today. This generation’s distracted lifestyle is causing all sorts of health problems among our people, from eating disorders to rising cases of HIV, to gadget-related illnesses and mental health problems. We truly need to move from healthcare to a deeper focus on our people’s health and wellness, because nothing that we do for the Filipino people will matter when they are not healthy enough to experience them. So, thank you for a convention that is very relevant to the challenges of our [time]. 

Today, we all come together to celebrate the invaluable contribution of Filipino nurses to our nation’s wellbeing. Nurses play a crucial role in ensuring that quality healthcare and services are delivered to our people every hour, every day. Nurses are one of the most important pillars in the medical profession. [applause] [cheers

Pero ito iyong nakakalungkot, ito iyong however—[laughter]—nurses are most of the time under-appreciated.[Audience: “Yes!”] [cheers] Nurses in government hospitals who are hired contractually still endure very low salaries. Na-shock nga ako noong sabi ni Governor. Sabi niya mayroon daw mga nurses na tumatanggap pa ng 4,500 pesos. Parang hindi na yata makatarungan iyon. [Audience: “Yes!”] [cheers] Physical and mental burnout are all parts of your job, whether you work in government or in the private sector. In hospitals, we all know, it is the doctors who oftentimes get the praise for patients’ quick recovery. [Audience: “Yes!”] But you, who assist them during treatment and rehabilitation, deserves just as much recognition, gratitude, and care. [applause] [cheersSabi nga nila, kapag bumuti na ang pasyente at nakalabas na ng ospital, sino naman ang mag-aalaga sa ating mga nurses? Sino naman ang mag-aasikaso sa inyo? So, on behalf of a very grateful nation: let me thank you for your hard work and sacrifice. 

I know that for many of you—that for many of your—nursing is more than just a job; it is a personal vow to serve those who need care and attention. Alam ko po iyan, kasi kinu-kuwento ko nga po sa mga katabi ko, ang kapatid ko pong sumunod sa akin ay isa ring nurse. [applause] [cheers]

Dahil po two years ago—pero wala siya dito sa Pilipinas—two years ago, a strong typhoon hit Florida where my sister has been based for the more than 30 years. I was quite worried, because she was telling me that as early as three or four days before the storm hit, they could not buy enough drinking water anymore—hindi sila sanay, eh; tayo sanay na sanay sa bagyo—because everyone was in a state of panic. I told her, perhaps it would be best if she could stay with our other sibling who lived in a much safer area. Ang sabi niya sa akin, “Hindi naman ako makakaalis, kasi duty ako.”

I know you can all relate. [laughter] Being a nurse is a tough, demanding, and time-consuming. And most of the time, you are still doing back-breaking work when other office-goers are done for the day. Despite all that you do, however, access to quality healthcare and services for millions of Filipinos still remain an elusive dream. People from far-flung communities have to travel for hours to the next barangay, or even the next town, to consult with a doctor or be treated by a nurse. Many barangays do not have the proper equipment to respond to first-aid needs. Some do not have health clinics and ambulances. Children grow up without getting vaccines and immunization, and the rate of vaccination, we all know, has gotten even worse in the recent years. This is a silent crisis that deserves our immediate attention. We, at the Office of the Vice President, believe that good public health governance should push for effective, preventive measures rather than short-term solutions. It should be a continuous campaign that ensures our people will receive the health services they need and they deserve. 

Your role in delivering medical services to our people is now more important than ever since we have passed the Universal Health Care Act. Now, more than ever, we need to continue strengthening our healthcare regulations, and fully inform our people about the universal health care system. There are many moving parts in these reforms, and it is critical that we all move in step together.

Given our fast-growing population, the challenge of improving health services becomes even more urgent every day. If we want to join the ranks of our first-world neighbors, with high productivity rates and lower national expenses for hospitalization and illnesses, we must eventually move from merely addressing existing health problems to promoting health and wellness—iyon iyong tema ng inyong convention ngayong araw.

At this juncture, let me pause to ask a question that we all need to ask ourselves: What is our role during these extraordinary times? 

This is a question I have been trying to address since I entered politics. When I was still a Representative of the 3rd District of Camarines Sur, I would usually spend three to four days every week doing constituency work. It was a weekly journey that opened my eyes to some of the harshest realities taking place on the ground. 

Halimbawa na lang, in a small town in my district where malnutrition rate was high, I discovered that barangay health units had no salter weighing scales and ang ginagamit nilang pang… pang ano iyon, pang-weigh ng mga babies, iyong bathroom scales. To measure the height of the children, they used tape measures—iyong pang-damit—because they did not have height boards. 

So I visited the DOH regional office. Dapat sana I would just inquire where our barangays can source salter weighing scales and height boards. And I was so surprised kasi  pinakita nila sa akin, they had a bodega-full of weighing scales and height boards just waiting to be distributed. Ang sabi nila wala namang nagre-request. So this ‘disconnect’ became even more pronounced when health services were devolved from the national government to the local government units, many of which lack the capacity to effectively implement them. So nakakalungkot, ‘di ba? 

This situation was very frustrating to me personally, because these were very basic needs that could have been easily addressed.  As nurses, you are exposed—firsthand—to the inadequacies of our public healthcare system. Even before the patient realizes that there are not enough beds or medicines available, or that a hospital does not have the necessary equipment, you are there to make things a little bit bearable. You are always there, holding our hands, ready to make the impossible possible. Madalas kayo pa iyong inaaway, ‘di ba? [Audience: “Yes!”Kahit kulang, nagagawan po ninyo ng paraan. Kahit kapos, nakakahanap ng solusyon.  [Audience: “Yes!”[applause] Ito po ang pinakamalaking ambag ng mga nurses sa ating bayan. 

We, at the Office of the Vice President, draw inspiration from the passion and dedication of Filipino nurses. 

Since we assumed office, my team and I have visited many far-flung and unknown communities. Through our Angat Buhay program, this is the program that we began in our first year in office to fight the more difficult problem of poverty, we try to find ways to sit down and listen to those who live in the farthest and poorest communities in the country.  

One of the most memorable places we visited is Agutaya—hindi ko alam kung narinig niyo na iyong Agutaya—it is a municipality in Northern Palawan made of several small island barangays. Napakahirap pong pumunta. Getting there is really a challenge: depending on weather conditions, the boat ride can take 10  to 16  hours from Coron or even longer. Dalawang beses na po akong nakapunta doon. So kung pupunta ka, magfa-fly ka muna to Coron, sasakay ka ng boat, depende kung anong isla, talagang 10 to 16 hours.

When I first stepped foot in Agutaya… stepped foot in Agutaya in 2016, the people met us with tears of joy. We were told that it was the first time that a national government official was visiting them because of its distance and inaccessibility. 

When we visited the only elementary school in Barangay Diit, we noticed that the Grade 5 students were as small as the Grade 1 students. The doctor who accompanied us told us that most of the kids on the island were stunted. As you all know, stunting is an irreversible condition after the age of five. 

The entire island also did not have electricity and potable water. There is no clinic or any modern health facility nearby. There is no doctor or nurse on stand-by. If you are coming from one of the farthest barangays in Agutaya—Brgy. Algeciras—napuntahan ko na rin po iyon. The nearest hospital is six hours away on the island of Cuyo. One can only imagine how difficult it is for the locals to respond to medical emergencies.

Through the generosity of our Angat Buhay partners, Agutaya is slowly being transformed into a healthier and livelier community. For instance, more than 400 households have already been energized, thanks to our Angat Buhay partners, Team Energy, and ASA Philippines. [applauseAlam niyo po, wala kaming pondo kaya nanghihingi lang kami. Another Angat Buhay partner, Andres Soriano Foundation, is already building a water system aside from spearheading health caravans that has provided families with free medical services, physical examinations, and clinical tests. Other partners have initiated feeding programs, gave away boats to fishermen, installed WASH facilities in schools, put up a toy library, and started livelihood programs. 

Stories like these represent but a fraction of many  of the health-related problems that our countrymen face on a daily basis. And we, at our office, believe that overnight remedies are not enough to address these problems.

Local government officials, private organizations, and the community must come together and rally behind these advocacies and find a solution that can be done fast. We believe that we can accomplish so much more if we set aside differences, and direct our energies towards effective collaboration.

Another one of our adopted communities is San Remigio—hindi ko alam kung narinig niyo na iyong San Remigio—it is a small seaside town in northern Cebu. We first went to San Remigio in March 2017 to visit a fishing community. Pero noong nandoon na po kami, we discovered that there was a large number of mentally-ill residents locked up in cages and chained by their families because of their violent tendencies. 

We partnered with the Philippine Mental Health Association–Cebu Chapter and did a mapping of the community to have a clear baseline that will guide the creation of the most effective strategy and intervention for the community. Since then, barangay health workers have been trained on the intricacies of dealing with mental illness and regular medicines and community-based treatment are already being provided to the patients. 

We also built a mental health facility for the residents. Iyon po iyong… iyon yata iyong nasa picture, iyong aming pinatayo. Through the generosity of our Angat Buhay partner, Solanaland Foundation, we were able to provide beds and other furniture and equipment for the facility, while our other partner ANCOP USA turned over an x-ray machine. Last February 2019, we finally turned over the mental health facility to the local government unit.

San Remigio is only one of 193 communities under our Angat Buhay program. Despite our very limited budget, our office has done everything to mobilize additional resources needed to assist these communities. So, imagine what we can do if we do things together, if there were more organizations reaching out to uplift the lives of the people.

So as you come together, and try to find solutions to the various problems that affect our healthcare system, please allow me to pose a challenge for all of us: Are we ready to do what needs to be done, roll up our sleeves, and traverse the unfamiliar paths that these people go through everyday?   

As nurses, it is my prayer that you will continue to lend your healing hands to mend our broken nation. Remember that during times of great pain and suffering, it is your presence that assures us that everything is going to be okay. It is your inner strength—pinagtiisan niyo na nga nang matagal na panahon ang mababang suweldo, ‘di ba? [chuckles] Iyong 2002 niyong suweldo,  iyong dapat na suweldo, hanggang ngayon wala pa rin, ‘di ba. Pero nakasali na sa SONA ni Presidente iyong nurses so baka mangyari na—[applause]—mangyari na sa susunod na taon. And we will all be praying for that. Your quiet courage that saves millions of lives is also a big inspiration for all of us. So may you continue to serve with integrity, love, and most of all—compassion. 

As your Vice President, I am here with you—fighting at the frontlines—so that every Filipino will have an equal chance for a better and healthier life.  

So muli po, maraming salamat sa inyo. Salamat sa mainit niyong pagtanggap. Congratulations sa organizers. Mabuhay po ang Philippine Nurses Association! [applause]