24 July 2016
Commencement Speech at the 107th Commencement Exercises of the UP College of Medicine and Philippine General Hospital Internship Closing Ceremonies, UP Theater, Diliman
Two years ago, I was visiting a very small barangay in the town of Ocampo, a small town in my district, right after a storm. I saw an old lady I later came to know as Lola Espy. She was carrying a huge bundle of dirty clothes she was going to wash in a stream several meters from where she lived. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Why was a really old lady doing her own laundry?
It turns out, laundry was the least of her concerns. I went with her back to her house and saw a dark, tiny, makeshift hut with a dirt floor, torn walls, and tattered roof that could hardly protect the inhabitants from the elements. Inside was her grandson who was bedridden because of cerebral palsy. She has been taking care of him for 34 years now.
On good days, they eat rice with water and salt. She claims they never get sick. In my mind, I thought, how can we, with clear conscience, live in a world that neglects the likes of Lola Espy?
I posted pictures of Lola Espy on social media and so many kind-hearted people sent monthly groceries, and materials for a better home. She and her son need regular medical attention to make sure they are protected from fatal illnesses. Unfortunately, as you well know, medical care is still not easily accessible in our country, especially among the poor.
We have chosen public healthcare as one of the priorities of the Office of the Vice-President because if our people are sick, are not getting enough nutrition, are constantly sliding into poverty because of the high cost of healthcare, they don’t stand a chance. The brilliance and massive potential our people have will be laid to waste.
Students of UP College of Medicine, you are the creme de la creme in your field. You are scholars of an institution that has seen more than 100 years of excellence walk in its hallways—and out into the world in places where the likes of Lola Espy live. I am impressed by how many of you have responded to the call of RSA or Return of Service Agreement. The country needs you more than you know.
I have been personally blessed by your unselfishness. I have organized many medical missions in the third district of Camarines Sur and in the Yolanda-stricken areas, and have never been failed by doctors from this institution. When Typhoon Yolanda struck, many of you volunteered your services and skills giving away water filtration facilities, teaching people how to filter water in areas where there were not many amenities like comfort rooms or livable hotel rooms.
I am particularly grateful to James Nazareth and Eman Limpin and the Mu Sigma Phi Fraternity for joining me in these tiring but very fulfilling missions. I hope you will never tire of the call to serve.
I encourage all of you to take RSA to heart. Use it to give service that counts; not just bear the three required years. Use your RSA to build a healthy nation; not just build up your own careers.
As you do, you don’t just enrich your experience; you also bequeath a better future for our country through your own skills. No contribution in public healthcare is too little. Your hands and your heart, when they work together, save lives and save generations.
My husband Jesse has always wanted a doctor in our family. In his own family and in my own, we also have doctors, and UP PGH is always our hospital of choice. His sister, Penny, and brother-in-law, Pipo, are the ones who take care of the medical needs of all members of the family, including mine, when they get sick.
When Jesse was Mayor of Naga, there would be a throng of patients going to PGH with a note from him for Penny asking her to assist them with their medical concerns. Penny ended up doing just that…as well as shouldering some of the medicines of the patients while they were confined and their bus fares going back to Naga when they get well.
We believe that being a doctor is being in the service of the people at all times, if you do your job the right way. Jesse has in fact sent some Naguenos to med school with the promise that they would come back to Naga to practice there. I think this is why my daughter Tricia is working really hard in med school. She wants her papa to be proud of her.
So my dear graduates, I will not call serving our nation a responsibility. I call it a privilege. It’s an opportunity to fulfill the greatness of our legacy. That of service. That of service that counts. That of service that counts to a nation with much potential for greatness.
I know that at some point, more than 50% of the UP College of Medicine graduates leave the country to heal people elsewhere in the world. That saddens us very much.
Now that there are even more opportunities for engagement with the government, now that we can all work together to give service that counts, I hope that you stay. Our country hopes that you stay. I know you will work hard. And you will make our nation proud.
We can do this together, and we can do this well. We have the models to maximize our resources so that for every unit of it—whether you are talking about money, equipment, clinics, or skills—there will be more Filipinos with better health.
We are changing the measurement of performance from activities to outcomes. We will not measure patients treated; we will look at quality of life indicators instead like lower infant of maternal deaths.
We want to see one doctor for every Filipino family. We hope more of those doctors are UPCM doctors, because you have the heart and the brilliance to make this system work. I am hopeful, and in fact positive that in the future, we do not even have to make the RSA mandatory.
The vision is all of you and the next generations of doctors from this university will be lining up for it. I am also hopeful that three years will not be enough for you, and that you will continue to serve where it matters. All this takes is people willing to link and collaborate. People willing to give service that counts.
Your years in PGH have shown you the best and the worst of the Philippine health care system. It showed you world-class mentors, surgeons, internists, and other physicians nearly miraculously bringing health and hope.
But, it also showed you hopelessness and despair from patients who have become very poor because of illness, made more helpless by government’s inability to properly provide safety nets. PGH showed you what you can do to be great doctors. It also showed what you should do to be great doctors without our patients becoming poor.
I urge you to be aware of the government safety net programs and use them well. And if the great doctors of PGH all become sensitive to reduce or eliminate out of pocket expenses, then a nation where people are healthy and do not have to fall into poverty when they get sick, becomes not a pipe dream, but a reality.
I love this country. My family has given much to it. But every day, I still worry that I am not doing enough. There are just so many people suffering. So many things that can be done for them. So many wrongs that need to be put right. So many people who are willing to help, but not given the chance.
When we are given the chance to serve, let’s grab it. We never know when our planes will crash. Live our lives to the fullest each day.
Show our love as much and as often as you can.
Hold hands to show you care.
Say “thank you.”
Call the waiter by his first name. And know that while he may not know how to save your life, saving his will be a privilege very few people have.
Thank you for listening.
And congratulations to the 2016 graduates!