14 October 2016
ARMM Colloquium 2016, Heritage Hotel, Pasay City
ARMM has a special place in my heart because my husband Jesse loved this region. He went to many of ARMM’s remote towns and villages to personally talk about good governance and how it can transform this beautiful but war-torn place. He often told me of the people’s warmth. I remember his amazement when local leaders not seeing eye to eye before were willing to be in one place whenever he was there.
When you see something like that, I guess you immediately know that the people are ready for reform.
Jesse spoke of ARMM with much admiration for its people and also a depth of understanding for its long history of injustices and development challenges. The year before he passed away, he was very hopeful in starting an comprehensive program of reform for ARMM as part of his role at the Department of Interior and Local Government.
It was a challenge, that is true, but also a unique opportunity to test our maturity as a nation. He often said: “If we could do it in ARMM, we could do it anywhere.”
Jesse was not one to brag about his accomplishments. So one of the most surprising and touching moments I experienced after he passed away was seeing several, very masculine ARMM local officials weep.
I heard from there that the first time those five were gathered in one room was when Jesse requested them to come together. I guess he has made some impact in this region, and I am really grateful for that.
The keys to ARMM’s progress is good governance, strong and honest leadership, transparency and accountability, and an ability to love its history, beautiful and tragic as it may be. I believe this is why Zuellig’s and USAID’s health program in ARMM is working so well.
There is obviously a deep respect for the people of ARMM, an understanding of its culture and history, a participative approach in delivering health services that respects local nuances, and a sharp focus on good governance and honest leadership.
We all know that when Mayors first get elected, they have no idea about the intensity of public health challenges they will likely face. More so the solutions that are urgently needed.
This is not a criticism of elected officials; just a reality we all have to face. Making matters worse is that delivery of health services is complicated by politics and deep set community behaviors and culture, and how people themselves have to be taught to be part of the solution and not the problem.
Programs like yours and partners like Zuellig and USAID allow Mayors to quickly understand the problem and become a catalyst for change. The Mayor understands that he needs to go beyond medical missions or paying for the medicine and hospital bills of his constituents, establish a clear vision for health change, and be a health ambassador, so that his constituents develop co-ownership of health programs.
He does what is needed to develop a roadmap and institute processes that will enable him to attack health inequities. Ultimately, he must be committed to providing health services to all, especially the poor.
From Naga City to Mindanao and to the northernmost parts of our country, the experience is the same: when the local leader governs with honesty, integrity, and transparency, constituents have better quality of life and progress happens from the top to the bottom.
It’s not about how many medical missions are done. It’s not about how many packets of medicine are delivered. It’s not about who gets credit. It’s not about the activity we can tick off on our accomplishment forms. It’s about whether we are truly transforming lives. This transformation has to happen not just among the better off, but especially among those who are really having a hard time in life. That’s real inclusivity.
When there is good governance, local leaders are not afraid of working with each other and virtually remove boundaries between municipalities. They hold the doors open to public-private partnerships and in the context of health, we hope to see more of provincial and DoH public hospitals working closely together with LGUs.
The Department of Health can make this easier to do by providing incentives for inter-local health zones to promote cooperation among Mayors and improve service delivery networks.
A good case study of this is BITES, which stands for Bagumbayan, Isulan, Tacurong City, Esperanza, and Sen. Ninoy Aquino. BITES improved maternal health access and reduced maternal mortality.
The Office of the Vice President can learn a lot from you. We are redefining the OVP by integrating the vision of uplifting the lives of Filipinos in the periphery of society as its main focus.
In line with this, we recently launched our anti-poverty initiative called Angat Buhay: Partnerships Against Poverty in a Summit held last Monday. During the summit, LGUs forged partnerships with the public and private sector to spearhead initiatives for the benefit of the poor.
It was a magnificent and hopeful sight to behold, confirming what I always believed: that collaboration is today’s most important and powerful resource. For in our world today, our most important work are the things that we can do together.
When I was Camarines Sur representative, we saw how our constituents in Naga City lacked medicines and other supplies because these were not properly distributed. The government had enough budget for medicines, but these either ended up expired due to what we called “maldistribution.” When rural health units do receive medicines, many are the ones the people don’t need.
There was also a time when we found that our district did not have available weighing scales and height boards, which were very basic and highly important in measuring the progress of our nutrition programs. After asking around for a bit and after coordinating with the Department of Health, we discovered that the regional office had sufficient supply in its warehouse!
Examples like these show that linkages between the local government units and the Department of Health have to be strengthened to fully provide the medical needs of our people.
The resources are available; the need massive and urgent. Simple as it may seem, it takes leadership and resolve to efficiently facilitate the intersection between supply and demand in the health sector.
The health of our nation has improved greatly in the past four decades. In the past year alone, the Department of Health’s campaign to provide Philhealth coverage to all Filipinos, regardless of age and economic standing, has picked up since it was first launched.
More of our countrymen can now reap the benefits of the Philhealth system, but we still have miles to go before every man, woman, and child is found in its fold. It is our fervent hope that after 6 years and before our term of office ends, we can see this goal achieved. Then, we can leave a meaningful legacy to the people we have sworn to serve.
At the OVP, we chose to focus on where life begins – Filipino mothers. Maternal mortality rates have not decreased here in the Philippines, and there is much work to be done to ensure that even our poorest mothers receive the medical attention they need.
We’re not just talking about health care. We’re also looking at its necessary twin: proper nutrition. Healthy mothers mean healthy babies, and what we would like to see are infants who are amply nurtured.
This is the reason why we support the Department of Health’s first 1,000 Days Program. You see, the first one thousand days of a child’s development are crucial in the formation of their mental and physical faculties. If babies do not receive the right amount of care and nutrition, they’re likely to be stunted, which results in irreversible impairments to their mental and physical well-being.
Right now our figures show that we have 3.5 million FIlipino children who are stunted. It is alarming to note that the effects of stunting after the first three years of life is irreversible.
All that stunted children can look forward to are years of limited potential and of limited opportunity to rise above their poverty. By championing better maternal health care and infant development, we’re able to support sectoral growth for universal health care and food and nutrition.
We have every confidence that we can do better. Awareness and prevention measures are being incorporated into health campaigns. Marginalized patients are given priority in government health centers so as to maximize the impact of finite medical supplies.
This noble endeavor, however daunting at times, can be achieved with greater speed through the continued participation of civic-minded professionals and partnerships with the private sector.
Clearly, the value of close and meaningful cooperation between the private sector and the government is irreplaceable. That is why events like these are precious. They show hope.
They show resilience.
They show that our people are ready to claim our place in the region as a progressive society, who has regard for the last, the least, and the lost.
Maraming salamat po, magandang hapon po muli sa inyong lahat.