Pia: PH vision should ensure care for people’s eyesight

To fulfill the vision of a sustainable future for all Filipinos, the government should work on ensuring quality and accessible eye care services for citizens that will help them achieve brighter and healthier lives.

 

Thus said Senator Pia S. Cayetano in light of the celebration of World Sight Day (October 10). Held every second Thursday of October, the event seeks to draw global attention to blindness and vision impairment with the goal of preventing them.

 

A known health advocate, Cayetano stressed the need to protect the eyesight of all Filipinos – from young children to senior citizens. She added that poor vision and avoidable blindness remain an underreported public health issue in the country.

 

Data from the Department of Health (DOH) in 2017 showed that more than two million people nationwide were blind or suffering from poor vision, with an estimated 332,150 Filipinos bilaterally blind, and 2.179 million with bilateral low vision.

 

The senator, for her part, stressed that the passage of a new law establishing a national vision screening program for kindergarten pupils could help turn the situation around.

 

It was Cayetano who authored and sponsored Republic Act 11358, or the ‘National Vision Screening Act,’ which was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this year.

 

The new law seeks to establish a National Vision Screening Program (NVSP) for young pupils under the Department of Education (DepEd).

 

The senator said early detection of eye problems is crucial in ensuring immediate intervention and proper treatment for children suffering from early vision impairments.

 

“Ensuring the full well-being of our children is the first step to enable them to reach their full potential and grow up as our partners in attaining sustainable growth and development,”  she said.

 

Moreover, the law also paves the way for the fulfillment of our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), added Cayetano, who chairs the Senate Committee on SDGs, Innovation, and Futures Thinking.

 

Goal 3 of the United Nations’ SDGs calls on nations to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages. This includes the provision of essential services based on tracer interventions like vision screening.

 

In 2016, Cayetano partnered with the Taguig city government and the University of the Philippines-Manila Philippine Eye Research Institute (PERI) to spearhead a pilot vision screening test for kindergarten pupils in the city.

 

150 pupils aged five to six underwent a simple vision-screening test, about 15 of whom were found to have vision problems, and in turn, given immediate and proper treatment. #

Pia wants stronger implementation of Mental Health Act

“If we could save one life just by listening, then by all means, we should be all ears.”

Senator Pia S. Cayetano had this message for the entire Filipino community on the observance of this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day on Tuesday, September 10.

Cayetano said the annual event sheds light on the need to address high suicide rates across the globe by providing mental health patients with better support and reinforcement. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one person dies of suicide every 40 seconds. The Philippines in particular has one of the highest cases of depression in Southeast Asia, affecting more than three million Filipinos. 

Moreover, the WHO said suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29 years.

“We have to step up our policies on suicide prevention if we want to protect our youth and guarantee a better future for them. Sometimes all it really takes to save a life is to listen and offer them support,” the senator said. 

Cayetano pointed out that in previous years, mental health conditions such as depression were not even covered by our health insurance system. 

“Now, we actually have a stronger law on mental health. I hope this boosts our efforts in taking care of our people’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being,” added Cayetano, who authored Republic Act 11036 or the Mental Health Act of 2019.

RA 11036 mandates the establishment of a more holistic approach to mental healthcare in the country by incorporating comprehensive mental health services into the Philippine national health system. 

Cayetano stressed that a vital component of the law is ensuring that patients suffering from mental illnesses will have proper access to helplines and support groups that can help them cope with their conditions. 

“It’s so important for us to continue taking action in responding to the needs of Filipinos in mental health crises. We can do this by giving them a safe space where they can get proper information and counselling, and more importantly, where they can feel that they are not alone,” she said.

The senator then called on the Department of Health (DOH) to make sure that their suicide prevention hotlines are always available for those who need help. 

The DOH recently launched its own National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) crisis hotline, which can be reached at 0917 899 8727 (USAP) and 989 8727 (USAP) operated 24/7. 

“I believe that in every call received by these ‘USAP’ hotlines, one person’s life can be saved. And so I encourage our health department to make sure that such initiative is sustainable,” Cayetano said. #

Sen. Pia S. Cayetano: The World Suicide Prevention Day sheds light on the need to provide mental health patients with better support and reinforcement.

Pia on e-cigarettes: ‘Less harmful’ does not mean ‘safe’

If there was one clear takeaway from the Senate’s latest committee hearing on proposals to raise ‘sin’ taxes, it’s that electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) are “definitely” not safe and could pose risks to people’s health, Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Pia S. Cayetano asserted. 

The panel on Thursday (September 5) conducted its third public hearing on proposals to increase excise taxes on alcohol and e-cigarette products under Package 2+ of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program or CTRP. 

The hearing, which focused on e-cigarettes, invited officials from industry, who expounded on the position that heated tobacco products (HTPs) and vape products are “less harmful” than conventional cigarettes. 

On the other side, various health experts, including officials from the Department of Health (DOH), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP), refuted industry claims, saying there is not enough evidence to prove that e-cigs are indeed safer for human health. 

WHO’s Country Representative to the Philippines, Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe (OIC), even likened using conventional cigarettes to jumping off a 10-storey building, whereas using e-cigarettes would be like jumping off a six-storey building. Either way, she said, the use of such products is “inherently toxic.” 

Both sides cited different studies and experiences from other countries, such as the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom, where e-cigarettes have been commercially available longer than in the Philippines, and where extensive studies have been conducted on the impact of these products on people’s health. 

“One thing that I am prepared to say now is, [there’s no truth to such claims that e-cigarettes are safe]. Para sabihin mong less harmful, well, then what is the degree of harm that is acceptable?” Cayetano stressed.

Summing up the discussions after the hearing in a briefing with media members, the senator added that despite the authorization granted by the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) to e-cigarette companies to market and sell e-cigs in the US, the latter were still not authorized by the regulatory agency to claim that their products are a “safer alternative” to conventional cigarettes. 

“There is no statement from the (US) FDA that it is safe. So let’s be clear about that. Nililinlang naman natin ang mga tao kapag sinasabi nating safe. Pati ang WHO, walang sinabi na safe ‘yan,” Cayetano said. 

Furthermore, the senator said one of the primary objectives in raising taxes on these products is to make sure that they don’t become readily accessible to children and young people, whom she said are the most vulnerable to e-cigarette use. 

“Suddenly, this tool that the industry is trying to promote as an alternative to smoking is now being taken up by young people who do not even smoke,” Cayetano pointed out during the hearing.

“I would like to hear from the industry how they intend to market their products, because I saw very disturbing modes of marketing [targeting the youth],” she added. 

The Ways and Means Committee is set to continue discussions on the tax measures on Wednesday (September 11). #

Senate Ways and Means Chair Pia Cayetano on taxing e-cigarettes as ‘sin’ products: You may claim that these are ‘less harmful’ but this is not equivalent to being ‘safe.’

Pia wants ‘alcopops’ pulled out of store shelves

Senator Pia S. Cayetano has called the attention of distributors and sellers of flavored alcoholic drinks called “alcopops” for using unethical and illegal marketing schemes to entice young Filipinos to buy their products. 
Alcopops are flavored alcoholic beverages, a variety of which is packed in colorful foil pouches similar to juice beverages.
“I was very bothered when I found out about it. It’s packaged in a very colorful packaging that is very attractive to kids,” Cayetano stressed during the Senate Ways and Means Committee’s organizational meeting on Thursday (August 15).
During the hearing, the Department of Finance (DOF) presented an overview of the remaining tax packages under the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CTRP), among which is the proposed increase in the excise tax on alcohol products.
“I accepted the chairmanship of the Committee on Ways and Means precisely to be able to see through the delivery of public services that I’ve always dedicated my time and energy [to],” said Cayetano, who chairs the panel. 
The senator particularly expressed concern over the increasing consumption of alcopops among Filipinos. DOF figures show that Filipinos spent P69 million for alcopops in 2018, more than twice higher than the P30 million consumed in 2017. 
A particular brand of alcopops is currently being sold at P25 per 200 ml pack and has an alcohol content of 7 percent. Under the current tax rates, its total excise tax is only P1.30 per pack.  The DOF is proposing to increase its tax rate to P8.00 per pack. 
Cayetano for her part decried the easy access of young children to the alcoholic drinks, which are being sold alongside regular non-alcoholic drinks in groceries and even online. Apart from this, the colorful packaging also makes it appealing to minors. 
As such, the senator called for the products to be pulled out of store counters and for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the packaging, distribution, and sale of such alcoholic mix beverages. 
“We’re trying to sell a product that has 7 percent alcohol and is packaged to make it very attractive to children. It is unethical and unlawful,” she said. 
“Nananawagan ako sa mga matitino at maaayos na businessmen. Siguro naman sa sarili niyong anak, hindi niyo ipapainom ‘yan,” she further stressed.
The senator, who earlier fought for the passage of the Sin Tax Reform Act of 2012, noted that a similar issue was raised in the Senate about how the marketing schemes of certain tobacco companies enticed the youth to try cigarettes. #

Cayetano decried the easy access of young children to alcopops, which are being sold alongside regular non-alcoholic drinks in groceries and even online.

Pia: Listen to experts on Dengvaxia

“Let’s listen to the experts.”

This is what Senator Pia S. Cayetano had to say about recent calls to revive the Dengvaxia vaccine following the Department of Health’s (DOH) declaration of a dengue epidemic throughout the country.

In a television interview on Friday (August 9), Cayetano said she agreed with President Rodrigo Duterte’s position to wait for the advice of local health experts before considering using the vaccine again in the Philippines. 

“This is a technical and scientific matter that should be left to the health experts. The President [already] said he’s listening to them, so let’s give this time,” she asserted.

“Sana po huwag muna tayong mag-comment… Kasi litong-lito na ang mga tao,” the senator appealed. 

Cayetano said while the issue on Dengvaxia’s revival is yet to be decided on by public health specialists, government officials should focus on discussing policies that will provide Filipino families better access to health services.  

“Sana po ang mga politicians, we just discuss policies. Our policy is we want to ensure the safety of the Filipino people. We want to ensure that they have access to [appropriate healthcare services]. The poor should also have access to whatever is available to the rich,” she stressed. 

In particular, Cayetano said proper attention should be given on addressing the problem of stunted growth among Filipino kids. 

The DOH stated that one in three children in the country remains stunted, a figure which has not improved in the last 15 years. 

“We must go back to the health basics. Those should be the concerns that we have. That’s part of our job, to ensure that the poorest of the poor are covered [by our health budget] and that these children become healthier,” she noted.

“We need to address this because this will help our children fight [dengue]. When they are malnourished or do not have the proper vaccinations, they are more susceptible to diseases,” she added. 

The principal author of the Mandatory Infants and Children Health Immunization Act and several other public health laws, Cayetano has filed bills in the Senate seeking to improve health services for Filipinos, including measures that seek to provide one midwife in every barangay; establish specialty centers in DOH hospitals and medical centers; institute the utilization and promotion of Folic Acid food fortification and supplementation; and the Build, Build, Build counterpart program for public health facilities.

The senator’s initiatives are in line with the country’s commitment to the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 3 of the SDGs, which urges nations to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all. #

Senator Pia Cayetano interviewed on CNN’s The Source: “We must go back to the health basics.”

Pia backs better health promotion vs outbreaks

Senator Pia S. Cayetano on Wednesday (August 7) urged the health department to take advantage of available resources to strengthen its information drive on the importance of government’s expanded program on immunization (EPI).

The senator said this during the first public hearing of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, and amid the Department of Health’s (DOH) declaration of a national dengue epidemic in the country. 

Cayetano lamented that the recent outbreak of diseases in the country was caused by the decline in people’s confidence in vaccines. 

“I had the opportunity to talk to barangay health workers all over the country. And the biggest problem [they mentioned] is that the mothers were scared. [They] refused to have their children vaccinated with measles and many other vaccines because of the [Dengvaxia scare],” she said.

The principal author and sponsor of the Mandatory Infants and Children Immunization Act (RA 10152), Cayetano stressed the need to properly inform Filipino families about the importance of vaccination in saving their children’s lives. 

To help restore people’s trust in vaccines, she urged the DOH and other concerned agencies to find more creative and aggressive ways in promoting the government’s immunization program. 

“We have a budget through the Sin Tax Reform Law (RA 10351), which we passed years ago for health promotion. I may not have seen it, but I would like to see really exciting and engaging infomercials, cartoons, or even dramas, that would help mothers appreciate the importance of vaccination,” Cayetano said.

“We passed the law precisely because we wanted to ensure that the budget moving forward would include [sufficient funds] for vaccinations… The budget for health promotions is there, let’s really make this engaging,” she added.

‘Improving children’s health increases chances vs dengue, other ailments’

Meanwhile, Cayetano said another critical part of preventing outbreaks like dengue fever in the country is for the government to improve Filipino children’s health and nutrition.

“At the end of the day it is the immune system [that needs to be strong]. The first thing we can do is to make sure our children are healthy enough,” the senator said. 

The DOH pointed out during the committee hearing that one in three Filipino children remains stunted. The department said this figure has not improved in the last 15 years.

“To bring up the level of health of every child is the first thing we can do to help them fight the [dengue] battle. That is our long-term solution. We can’t wipe out dengue in a day or in a year. But we can make our children healthier with more resources,” Cayetano stressed.

The senator then called for a strengthened implementation of the government’s programs on children’s health and nutrition, which she said also forms part of the country’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all. 

The DOH for its part reminded the public to follow the “4S strategy” against dengue, which stands for “search and destroy” mosquito-breeding sites, “self-protection measures” like wearing covered clothes and using mosquito repellent, “seek early consultation”, and “support fogging/spraying” in hotspot areas. #

Senator Pia Cayetano: We can’t wipe out dengue in a day or in a year. But we can protect our children with more resources poured into health promotion.

Bill filed to accelerate health infrastructure program

As the Philippine economy continues to expand, so does the demand for better public health services from the growing urban and rural population. To meet this increasing need, Senator Pia S. Cayetano has filed the “Priority Health Infrastructure Act.”

Known also as the ‘Build, Build, Build for Health’ Bill, the measure aims to create a comprehensive and sustainable approach to health infrastructure over the next five years. 

The proposal takes off from the government’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ Program for public works and is anchored on the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022 to accelerate human capital development through quality health care services. 

The measure is also expected to put the Philippines on track in attaining its target to provide essential health care for all by 2030 under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

The Department of Health (DOH) shall be assigned to determine priority health infrastructure needs of government hospitals all over the country to be integrated in a five-year plan. An annual budget of P10 billion is allocated for the improvement of health facilities in priority areas.

As the government has made considerable progress to improve health care in the past years, most notably with the passage of the Universal Health Care Act, serious challenges remain in the absorptive capacity of the nation’s public health system, Cayetano stressed. Twice as many households seek health care in public health facilities compared to private health facilities.

“To most effectively protect and promote the health of the population, the nation’s entire governmental public health infrastructure must be revitalized and strengthened. This will require political and financial support over time,” Cayetano said on the necessity of the bill’s passage.

For the 18th Congress, the senator has filed related measures on health care, including the bill establishing Specialty Centers in DOH Hospitals and Medical Centers, as well as the bill mandating the appointment of at least one midwife for every barangay.

The former chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, Cayetano led the passage of several landmark laws to enhance public health services. 

Among these are the Mental Health Act (RA 11036), the National Health Insurance Act (RA 10606), the Philippine National Health Research System Act (RA 10532), the Mandatory Infants and Children Health Immunization Act (RA 10512), and the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (RA 10354). #

File photo: Then Deputy Speaker Pia Cayetano visits mothers at the Maternity Ward of Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu. (February 2019)

Second batch of bills filed to advance PH development goals

Senator Pia S. Cayetano on Monday (July 8) filed ten more bills in the Senate to support the Duterte administration’s efforts in attaining the country’s sustainable development goals. 

The returning senator said her second batch of bills reinforces her vision of helping the country meet its targets in line with the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022 and the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In pursuit of Goal 3 of the SDGs, which is to ensure healthy lives and promote the wellbeing for all, Cayetano is pushing for programs to provide better healthcare services and facilities to Filipinos, particularly on reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health. 

These include three bills seeking to provide one midwife in every barangay; establish specialty centers in government hospitals and medical centers; and the promotion of Folic Acid food fortification and supplementation.

Furthermore, the senator filed measures aimed at upholding the country’s commitment to Goal 13 of the SDGs, which is to implement policies towards climate change mitigation.

Among these is the bill establishing the Department of Disaster Resilience, which will become the country’s primary agency in charge of responding to disasters and mitigating its impacts.

Other pro-environmental bills filed by Cayetano include the proposed ‘Sustainable Forest Management Act,’ which provides for the conservation of the country’s forest lands and resources; and the ‘Bicycle Act of 2019,’ which proposes to recognize bicycles as an alternative and sustainable mode of transportation.

Apart from these, Cayetano is pushing for the ‘Tulong Puhunan’ bill to institutionalize nationwide microfinance programs for the development of Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs). This is in line with Goal 8 of the SDGs – to promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all. The measure is also inspired by the success of the Presyo Trabaho Kita (PTK) program, a brainchild of the senator’s brother, Taguig Representative Alan Cayetano, which helps provide seed capital to people’s organizations across different sectors nationwide. 

“Let this be a testament of our continued commitment to achieve the collective aspirations of Filipinos, as embodied in the government’s ‘Ambisyon Natin 2040’ vision, where every family enjoys ‘Matatag, Maginhawa, at Panatag na Buhay,’” the senator stressed.

Cayetano likewise filed pro-youth and -family measures during the second week, including the Magna Carta of Student-Athletes; Increasing the Maximum Value of the Family Home; as well as an Act Instituting Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines.

“My objective is to keep championing the rights and welfare of every member of the family. This has been my fight ever since. Hopefully, with the help of our colleagues in Congress, our legislative action plans can help us attain our shared vision for a better country,” the senator concluded. #

Pia files first 10 bills in support of PH development goals

Returning senator Pia S. Cayetano has filed her first 10 bills in the Senate with the aim of fulfilling her campaign promise to champion legislation that will help achieve the country’s development goals. 

Her proposed measures, Cayetano stressed, are anchored on the government’s Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations (UN) Member-States, including the Philippines, in 2015.

The PDP 2017-2022 is the first medium-term plan launched by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) under the Duterte administration, leading to a vision known as “AmBisyon Natin 2040,” where Filipino families are seen to enjoy a “strongly rooted, comfortable, and secure life” in 25 years.

The SDGs, meanwhile, are a collection of 17 global goals set by the UN General Assembly, with strategies geared towards improving health and education, reducing inequality, spurring economic growth, and addressing climate change.
In line with these goals, Cayetano filed her first batch of bills in the Senate and plans to file more measures in the coming weeks to address challenges hindering sustainable and inclusive growth for the country. 

Furthermore, she vowed to continue focusing on her long-time advocacies as a legislator, including education, health, women and family welfare, and sustainable communities.

Among Cayetano’s priority measures are:

1. Alternative Child Care Code of the Philippines 

2. Educational Roadmap Act 

3. Priority Health Infrastructure Act (Build, Build, Build for Health)

4. Priority Infrastructure for Public Higher Education Institutions Act (Build, Build, Build for Education)

5. Sustainable Cities and Communities Act

6. Sustainable Transportation Act

7. Act Recognizing the Foreign Decree of Termination of Marriage

8. Amendments to the Family Code of the Philippines (to ensure the equality of men and women under the laws of marriage and family relations) 

9. Inclusive Education for Children and Youth with Special Needs Act

10. Act Providing for Additional Support and Compensation for Educators in Basic Education (Teachers salary increase)


“We already have a set of goals that we envision for future generations of Filipinos. What we need is a comprehensive action plan to ensure that our goals will be met,” Cayetano said.

“For my part, I will continue what I started since my first term as a legislator and push for more laws to empower Filipinos through education, proper healthcare services, children and family welfare policies, and sustainable development,” the senator concluded.#

Better use of funds for health services pushed

Senatorial candidate Pia S. Cayetano vowed to push for a better utilization of government funds to build and improve public health facilities throughout the country and to provide them with state-of-the-art equipment. 

The Taguig representative on Monday (April 15) visited the Compostela Valley Provincial Hospital in Pantukan, where she discussed her health advocacy with the doctors and nurses working in the public hospital.

“If we can help in any way, please let us know. Let us know what we can do to push the policies na diretso sa inyo ang benepisyo, to make your lives better,” Cayetano told them.

She stressed the need to complement the newly enacted Universal Health Care (UHC) Law by ensuring that the health facilities and services made accessible to all Filipinos are properly equipped and of great quality. 

The UHC law, of which Cayetano was co-author, makes all Filipinos members of PhilHealth, thus making them eligible to preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative, and palliative health care services provided by government.

“You can be rest assured that, apart from the laws that we already made, we will keep on providing you with whatever intervention possible. Because sometimes, no matter how much you give, if you have limited facilities and equipment, the quality of health care services will be affected,” she said.

“My inspiration is to work to a point where the average Filipino has access to quality health care services,” she added. 

Cayetano then expressed her gratitude to the country’s public health workers for their dedication to protect the lives of every Filipino, especially the poor.

“Ang paghanga ko sa mga nagseserbisyo sa ating bayan, especially on healthcare, is really high. So please accept my gratitude to you for serving our people. And I want to remind you that your work never goes unnoticed,” she said. 

As former chair of the Senate the Committee on Health, Cayetano pushed for the passage of several landmark measures, including the Sin Tax Law, which led to the collection of billions worth of funds for the development of health centers and facilities.#

Senatoriable Pia S. Cayetano greets two nursing mothers at the Compostela Valley  Provincial Hospital in Pantukan on Monday (April 15). Cayetano has committed to work to make public health services more responsive once elected to the Senate.