Doctors prescribe: go out and vote for health

Trust your doctor. Doctors and health advocates called on their patients and colleagues to go out and vote for health on May 13. “Exercising your right to vote is good for your health,” said Dr. Tony Leachon, Secretary of Philippine College of Physicians, “This is a powerful opportunity for us to flex our muscles to put true health champions in Senate, who will fight for health.”

“Six out of 10 Filipinos die without ever seeing a doctor,” added Dr. Tony Dans, President of Philippine Society of General Internal Medicine (PSGIM), “The high cost of health care in the country prevents people from accessing life-saving services, and drowns families further into poverty.”

In 2010, Filipino families spent more than half of the country’s annual health expenditure according to the National Statistical Coordination Board. “Mahal magkasakit. Mabuti kung may bulsa na puwede paghugutan, kung wala mamatay ka na lang?” added May-i Fabros from WomanHealth Philippines, “Enshrined in our Constitution is our right to health, which is why we need to ensure that those who we elect into power will push for health reform policies that will make access to health services equitable for all, regardless if you have money or not.”

Sin Tax Law as criteria in voting for health

“Although health is just one of the considerations when choosing candidates, its impact in our lives resonate, we need a health criteria to help us vote for true champions for health,” said Jo-Ann Latuja, Senior Economist of policy think tank, Action for Economic Reforms.

“We can use their position on the Sin Tax Law as a proxy measure for health and societal reform since it addresses the issues on health financing, universal health care, governance, corruption, economic reform, and vested interests, among others.”

The Sin Tax Law or Republic Act 10351 was one of the critical and highly controversial health reform measures that passed into law before the end of 2012, amdist the strong tobacco industry lobby.

"Words are cheap, what we need are true champions for health who will battle it out with vested interests in the halls of congress," said Dr. Maricar Limpin, Executive Director of Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (FCAP), one of the first tobacco control groups who fought against the anti-health Sin Tax Law of 2004, or Republic Act 9334, which maintained the status quo and kept tax rates pegged at 1996 prices. "We will vote for legislators who will fight for health, and reject those who will most likely fight against health."

"What we are presenting are Pro-Health and Anti-Health candidates based on our critical appraisal of their health position particularly on Sin Tax," continued Latuja, "With health as our criterion, we encourage the public to assess the track record of the candidates for local and national positions, particularly those who have the obligation to pass national policies that will health our health system.

The doctors, economists and health advocates presented their review process of the 33 senatorial candidates. First, they identified the incumbent candidates who had the chance to vote for what they referred to as the effective and pro-health Sin Tax Law of 2012 or the defective and anti-health Sin Tax Law of 2004. After which they assessed the most recent statements on RA 10351 of the candidates, whether they are for or against it. Combining these two they identified only four Pro-Health candidates - Risa Hontiveros, Jamby Madrigal, Koko Pimentel, and Sonny Trillanes, but were able to identify eight Anti-Health candidates - Gringo Honasan, Chiz Escudero, Jack Enrile, Migz Zubiri, Ernie Maceda, Mitos Magsaysay, and Christian Señeres.

"We hold the reelectionists accountable, as doctors, health advocates, we are reminding the people that these are the people who turned their backs on health," added Dr. Dans. "We need to remain vigilant and protect our health gains from the threats to water down the pro-health sin tax law. "

"To the candidates who remained steadfast in protecting health, continue doing so. For those whom we identified as Anti-Health or have remained fence-sitters who are noncommittal to health, are you for or against Filipinos?" Dr. Limpin threw the question to the candidates.

"They have a chance to do better, if they really care for the people, they should make health their priority. Strong Heath policy creates a ripple effect from powerful primary health care and regulatory measures to health financing, and even more substantial health appropriation in the national and local budget," said Fabros.

"As doctors, we advise our patients on how to live better lives, on how to take care of their health, and to contribute to a better society," concluded Dr. Leachon, "In 2010, 36 million Filipinos had a chance to make their voices heard, but failed to do so. Now we have another opportunity to choose the leaders that we truly deserve."

The group led by the Philippine College of Physicians, Philippine Society for General Internal Medicine, Philippine College of Chest Physicians, and civil society sin tax advocates, Action for Economic Reforms, WomanHealth Philippines, and FCAP held the press conference during the 60th Anniversary of PCP and its 43rd Annual Convention to inform the public of the pro-health and anti-health stance of the 33 Senatorial Candidates.