Last Sunday, I joined a group of cancer awareness advocates including mothers of children with cancer, as part of a bike run event in front of the Manila Central Post Office to commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Because of the rains and given the need for strict health protocols, the event was small in number but full of heart and hope. It was a miracle that we were able to meet and stage a tiny little bike run at all, and special thanks go out to Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno and his chief of staff, Cesar Chavez, for assisting us.
Former senator JV Ejercito rode a bicycle together with former Commission on Elections official Atty. Goyo Larrazabal (who wore cute pink socks!). They were joined by Beaver Lopez (JV’s ex-brother in law) and Elbert Cuenca, a well-known restaurateur. I rode my Japanese-surplus trike with Cielo Suarez, with whom I share a superb oncologist by the name of Dr. Charles Vincent Uy. Dr. Gizela Gaw, a well-respected physical therapist that specializes in preventing lymphedema, also came along. I also finally get to meet in person Paul Perez of the Cancer Coalition of the Philippines, Lloyd Zaragoza, Orlando Oxales, and Dr. Rachel Rosario of the Philippine Cancer Society. It was fun to mesh with this close-knit community of cancer experts and advocates, as well as families with cancer survivors, and sadly, those with loved ones that have passed on.
Had Covid-19 been absent from our lives, this very same community would be knocking on the doors of our legislators and visiting the office of the new Speaker of the House, seeking help in behalf of all cancer patients across the country. Speaker Velasco, we have much to say, and beg you for, because given the stability of your leadership, then perhaps it is time to ensure that you do make a difference in people’s lives.
I am sure that close to everyone we know have had a brush with cancer through relatives, friends or co-workers. Some prefer not to divulge their condition, even long after their treatment is over. Cancer is a killer disease with four Filipinos dying of cancer per hour, or 9 cancer patients dying each day. Among Asean countries, the Philippines rank first in breast cancer cases and fatalities. For men, lung cancer in the Philippines has claimed more lives compared to other types of cancer.
Last year, the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) was enacted into law, giving all of us hope that things would change for the better. This means that a Philippine Cancer Center, a research and treatment facility, shall be built and manned by the best oncologists, pathologists, and other medical and research staff. We also expected that a Cancer Assistance Fund would have been established by now, to accommodate the medicinal and treatment needs of thousands of cancer patients. The Health department assures us that there is funding to help indigent cancer patients, but what we seek is the implementation of the specific provisions of the law. We want the entire law funded as promised, through the General Appropriations Act.
To their credit, the Philippine Senate led by Senate President Tito Sotto had committed to funding the law and making sure that there will be funds allocated especially for childhood cancer. This is a firm commitment from no less than the Senate leadership and Sen. Sonny Angara as chair of the appropriations committee.
Can we have a similar commitment from you, Mr. Speaker? I searched for your background and learned that your mother was a nurse and won as a party-list legislator on health issues. I also know that your wife is quite active in non-profit, charitable endeavors while your father served in the Supreme Court, where permanent justice emanates. You come from such a blessed and distinguished political family. Certainly, you were quite eloquent about the need for trust and honor and that our people are yearning for these qualities from the leaders that they elected.
When the NICCA law was enacted, there was trust and honor involved, too. Those diagnosed with cancer and the medical community that came forward to help Congress write that law, expected that its provisions will come to life through specific line item budgetary allotments. We trust that you will finish the work, honor the spirit of the law, and hold the Department of Health accountable for its effective implementation.
Today, the NICCA is in budgetary limbo, with no specific funding except for lump sum allocations that can easily be moved around, depending on the Health department’s pressing need.
Speaker Velasco, at the height of the speakership imbroglio, you said: “Trust and honor are values that are important, especially in these trying times. They reveal our true character and show what we, as leaders, are truly made of.”
A law needs to be honored by those who passed it first, so that we, the citizens, can benefit from its lofty goals. The National Integrated Cancer Control Act is the kind of law that save lives. Please fund it as intended, as a cohesive and coherent law, rather than as an accidental beneficiary of movable lump sum allocations.