Preparing PH for the next pandemic

By Senator Pia S. Cayetano
Principal Sponsor, Bayanihan to Heal as One Act

Mr. President, I rise today on a matter of personal and collective privilege.

On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced COVID-19 as a public health emergency. I’ll quickly walk through this history to emphasize the importance of the facts that I’d like to bring up today.

On 16 March 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire Philippines under a state of calamity through Proclamation No. 929 dated for a period of six (6) months.

The COVID-19 State of Calamity had been extended several times. Proclamation No. 1021, on 16 September 2020; Proclamation No. 1218, on 10 September 2021, and Proclamation No. 57, on 12 September 2022.

The Philippines’ COVID-19 State of Calamity has lapsed on the 31st of December 2022. So it has lapsed.

The DOH had, previous to this lapse, been submitting, had made statements, and submitted an official request to President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. to consider the further extension of the COVID-19 State of Calamity, to ensure that the government would be able to continue to implement the COVID-19 response strategies mandated under Republic Act No. 11525, known as the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act, and Republic Act No. 11712, known as the Public Health Emergency Benefits And Allowances For Health Care Workers Act.

A month ago, before the year ended, the President then expressed, I suppose in reaction to this request for extension, that he was hesitant to continue the state of calamity because according to him, we are technically not in a state of calamity anymore. And our good Senate President, I believe, had made a statement to the effect that it is not good for our image. And I agree with both gentlemen. But I think all of us want to move forward, all of us want to normalize our lives.

But it is incumbent upon each one of us as legislators, as a body, to ask ourselves, ano ba yung effect ng declaration of calamity na yan? Why does the DOH, our technical experts, want us to extend that? So let’s study this, your honors, and give it some time to sink in na ano ba yung effect nito sa atin? It is imperative upon us as legislators to understand what effect the declaration has on our ability to respond to any possible surge in Covid infections.

So this is our situation, your honors. There are important provisions under the laws that I mentioned that are anchored on the declaration of the state of calamity and/or public health emergency by the President of the Philippines. And that is the reason DOH emphasized that without such extension, it would affect the implementation of different COVID-19 response strategies of the government.

So bakit ba kailangan meron tayong COVID-19 response strategies? Well clearly, one of the responses was for us to get vaccinated. So if we did not get vaccinated, saan tayo ngayon, right?

So we need to ask ourselves, hindi tayo expert, I am a lawyer, my colleague over there, Sen. JV who, like me, chaired the Committee on Health, is not a doctor. I am also not a doctor. Sen. Bong Go, our current Chairman of the Committee, we’re not doctors. So we listen to the science. Why was it important that we have these laws that allowed government to take certain actions, which otherwise, without the law, they could not do. Kasi we are governed by laws. And I will go through each one.

First, the law allowed negotiated procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. Ano ang ibig sabihin nun? Ibig sabihin nun, under the law that we passed, pwedeng i-negotiate ang pagbili ng COVID-19 vaccines. Because without that law, you have to go through the public bidding under the Government Procurement Reform Act. So siguro most of us who follow this know na negotiated ang pag-procure ng mga vaccines. So if there will be another variant in the future, without a law, hindi pwede mag-negotiate. Magbi-bidding. And that would take a long time. So that is one effect. I’ll go to the next.

The authority to administer COVID-19 vaccines with emergency use authorization (EUA). Hindi ho ba naaalala niyo, na nung nagkaroon na tayo ng vaccines, andaming nagbabakuna? Every… Kada sulok, kasuluk-sulukan ng Pilipinas, may nagpapabakuna. Well yun ang goal natin. Sino nagbabakuna sa inyo? Do you know that those people who are administering the vaccines had a special authority? Kasi hindi pwedeng kung sino-sino lang nagbabakuna. Hindi pwede yun, it’s not allowed.

So Section 9 of the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act (RA 11525) specifically says that, it allowed licensed pharmacists and midwives who are duly trained by the DOH to administer COVID-19 vaccines. Without that, hindi sila pwedeng magbakuna. So kung magkakaroon ng surge, wala tayong vaccinators. We don’t have the same amount of vaccinators because they will not be allowed. So right now, hindi na sila covered.

Now, the benefits of health and non-health care workers is another thing. This is a huge help to our dedicated health workers that allowed them during this most difficult time to serve. I won’t go through the details, this has been discussed several times but there is a health emergency allowance that is given to these health workers. Sa low risk areas, P3,000; sa medium risk areas, P6,000; high risk areas P9,000. Well obviously, kung wala namang COVID, wala namang declaration and there is no need, hindi naman ho talaga kailangan ng allowance. Pero kung meron man, then there’s no basis to give them, and syempre, they deserve it naman kung nagkaroon ng emergency and nagtatrabaho naman sila. There are other details on the compensation, kapag namatay, nagkasakit, andyan yan, alam niyo na yan, I won’t go into that anymore.

Next, the utilization of appropriate funds, including the Quick Response Fund (QRF). This is so important to LGUs because the LGUs submit their requests, together with supporting documents, to the NDRRMC and mahabang diskusiyon ito. But because we have the law that allowed the use of the QRF for COVID, namamadali ang process and it becomes easier for them to access. So again, hindi nila ma-access ito without that. There are also other agencies who have built-in QRFs, including DPWH, DND, DepEd, DSWD, DA, etc.

Another important aspect that is affected by the declaration, the authority of the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) to make recommendations on COVID-19 vaccines based on preliminary data from Phase III clinical trials. Dear colleagues, without this specific authorization to HTAC to make those recommendations, alam niyo naman yun, kapag dini-develop ang isang drug, it takes a long time for these drugs to go to market because it must go through the process. You cannot rush the development of these drugs. But because there was an urgent need determined by WHO and all the recognized health authorities all over the world, it became a standard to allow the drugs even if they were still in Phase III, only in Phase III. So very clearly, what our law says, the HTAC shall have the authority to make recommendations to the DOH on COVID-19 vaccines based on preliminary data from Phase III clinical trials and World Health Organization recommendations, in the absence of completed Phase III and Phase IV clinical trials. So if this law is not in effect, then we cannot access vaccines. So even if the US, Japan, whoever, makes these drugs that are very effective, we cannot access them if they are only in Phase III preliminary trials because there is no law that authorizes the sale or even the donation or use of these drugs in our country.

We’d like to point out, your honor, that the WHO foresees the lifting of the declaration of the COVID-19 as a public health emergency in 2023, but it emphasized that surveillance and monitoring of infections remain critical. So even if the COVID-19 pandemic officially ends, and therefore the virus becomes endemic, the government should continue its ongoing efforts in controlling the spread of COVID-19 virus, because andyan pa rin yun. When you say the pandemic ends, it’s just a change in how the virus is moving around and affecting us. Pero andyan pa rin siya. So we still have to have actions in place. We still have to have that response available so that the most vulnerable in our country, the elderly, the PWDs, those with comorbidities, they are protected. And our health workers, they are also protected and given due recognition for the work that they have to suddenly do in case something happens.

As legislators who have worked on passing the necessary laws that were needed to urgently respond to the pandemic, we must equally be concerned about responding when the COVID-19 virus becomes endemic. Determining the effects of the non-extension of the COVID-19 State of Calamity is very important, dear colleagues.

Ensuring that our ongoing efforts to minimize the effects of COVID on our daily lives – as I mentioned, the safety and welfare of the most vulnerable, the frontliners, the health workers, the economy that we want to revive and we want to continue to see support families, all of these should not be undermined and we need to be able to respond quickly.

Thus, dear colleagues, I humbly submit that this privilege speech be taken up by the Committee on Health so that we as legislators can be responsible in our task and determine what laws need to be enacted to ensure that we learn the lessons. It’s okay, your honors… Let me rephrase my statement. The whole world seems surprised by the effects of COVID-19 and yet, there were enough signals to tell us to be prepared. Your honor, kung ngayon hindi pa tayo prepared sa susunod, wala na ho tayong iba pang sisisihin kundi sarili natin. So let us be vigilant and decisive and responsive to the task at hand, which is to ensure that we are ready for any not even COVID alone, but for future pandemics, health emergencies. And let us pass the laws that will allow our technical people, our health workers, our frontliners, to respond with haste and responsibly as well.

Thank you, Mr President, dear colleagues.#

In a privilege speech on how the country should move forward, following the non-extension of the COVID-19 state of calamity, Senator Pia S. Cayetano urged fellow senators to take the lead in passing the necessary legislation to ensure the country’s preparedness for the next pandemic and future health emergencies.

Our fight for health continues

By Senator Pia S. Cayetano
•Principal co-sponsor, Sin Tax Law of 2012 (RA 10351) as Senate health committee chair
•Principal sponsor, Sin Tax Law of 2020 (RA 11467) as Senate ways and means chair

Good evening, warm greetings to all of you. Of course, [former health secretary Enrique Ona], it’s so nice to see you. Everyone here. Hindi ko na kayo iisa-isahin. My partner in crime, my partner in healthcare, Sen. JV [Ejercito]. It’s so hard to work without partners. I can’t mention all of you but truly I am very happy to be here.

Of course, [Dr. Tony Dans], during the pandemic. Kaibigan ko si Tony because ang youngest sister niya is my teammate in UP Volleyball. Hindi kami close, yung kapatid niya ang close ko, pero naging close na kami dahil sa pandemic because of all the things that we had to discuss.

Anyway, I just have a few minutes, it’s very difficult for me to decide what to cut. Well, my journey started maybe when I became a senator in 2004. But, just a raise of hands, who was not part of this before 2012? Who wasn’t around during 2012? Because ia-eye-to-eye ko kayo, para marinig niyo yung kwento. Yun lang naman yun.

Okay, so there are a handful of people here who don’t know the journey and I’m speaking to the choir to those, many of you, who have been around and have heard it, but bear with me.

So in 2012 was my first major victory with a health bill that was, I can’t think of any other word, I’m sorry for the foreigners, but the Filipino word is “masalimuot.” It was so deep, so heavy, so intricate. It was so difficult, right? Masalimuot. It was very difficult to pass the [Sin Tax Law of 2012]. I mean, by then, I’ve been a senator for a few years, I have passed many other bills, but this was a difficult bill.

And I won’t go into details, but I told Tony that these stories have to be told. The committee report that came out for this 2012 Sin Tax Bill was rubbish. And this is me na hindi nagmumura in public. It was rubbish. And so then Senate President Franklin Drilon, had to…when you’re Senate President, you stay on the…JV, anong tawag dun kapag nandoon ka sa taas? Podium. [Senate President Drilon] had to go down and basically chair this committee because he had to change the committee report [which] was rubbish. It was a joke. And the thing is, what you have to understand is it is so easy to fool people if you will simply say, you raised taxes for [public] health. Everybody who loves health, “Oh, thank you ang bait niyo.” But it’s a joke. They raised it at such an amount that was not even up to par with inflation.

And this happened again, by the way, when I was in the House, right? When I was in the House, they passed the – tumatawa si JV – he was in the Senate, I was in the House, they passed a bill that increased the taxes on tobacco. It was a joke. I stood up and said, excuse me…kasi sa House sa dami naman ng tao, they really cannot accommodate everyone to speak. And I felt like I was a dead grasshopper about to be eaten by a swarm of ants, red angry ants. When I stood up, parang, “Sino ka to stand up when we’re about to pass this bill?” I’m talking about the tax bill… I was in the House between 2016, 17, 18. So somewhere there, around that time. And a swarm of ants telling me that I had no right to talk about this bill. But in fact, I had a right because that was an amendment to the 2012 Sin Tax Bill. And so I said my piece and what else could I do, I got outvoted, okay?

So 2012, I would say my journey started. But while I was writing my notes in the car, I had to tell myself that, “you know what, it’s not correct for me to say that journey started…” I’m simply saying I passed that difficult bill.

My journey started when I was a child. My mom is alive, she’s a living angel, kind-hearted, she’s a teacher, may puso ng isang teacher. My dad was very strict, he did not smoke and did not drink, and he walked the talk. So many kids grew up in an environment where they are told not to do one thing, and yet the people around them are all doing those things. I was blessed to be brought up in a home na kung bawal yan, bawal din sa parents ko. They don’t drink, they don’t smoke. So unless my brothers decide to take up smoking in their 40’s and 50’s, wala talagang naninigarilyo sa amin. And that is because of the family we were raised in. So that journey started then.

And this is the message I want everyone to hear who has children, grandchildren, pamangkins – it starts with the environment.

So here I am, as you know, I was a passionate runner, triathlete. I still run but I have a new passion, it’s called padel, P-A-D-E-L. You can look it up, that’s my new sport. I would run all over the country, the races would start at 4 AM, 5 AM, so as daylight breaks, people would come out of the house. This is all over the country, wherever. And then people would come out of the house and there’s going to be a man holding a baby, siguro ang asawa niya nagluluto. He’s holding a baby and holding a cigarette. I’ve seen that so often and that smoke is going to this baby’s face. And I’m running, here I am, I have that privilege of being healthy. Hindi ako kinarga na may sigarilyo sa mukha ko. Not only that, I was told not to smoke and yet here, there are children, they can’t even breathe in their own homes.

So that’s a privilege. A privilege I appreciate and I hope we can create for more people. And we have. We have created that. Why? Because my daughters who just graduated the last few years, one during the pandemic, the other, two years before the pandemic. All of them and their friends, they don’t smoke. So I am not saying this because, “yay magaling akong parent.” No, it’s not me. My generation of parents, their kids mostly, at least in the environment where these kids were brought up, they don’t smoke.

Alas, comes the new product, the e-cigarettes. Some of them, not my kids, because over my dead body, but no, they’re not interested and they have been educated about the ills of this thing.

So anyway, fast forward, actually my first introduction to sin products was the Graphic Health Warning Bill. We had a photo together [back in 2007] when you [Dra. Maricar Limpin] presented it [draft Graphic Health Warning Bill] to me. So yung mga lumalapit sa akin nagpe-present, magpa-picture na tayo habang nagpe-present di ba? Kasi years from now, it’s so nice to look back to see, wow we documented that.

And then I have these amazing photos with these kids [during the sponsorship of the Graphic Health Warning Bill, first in 2008, when they were still kids, and six years later in 2014, when the kids were already young adults]. Look at them, di ba? Look at them. I should have another picture with that group. Doon na sa plain packaging [bill] sila naman din. Siguro may anak na sila by the time na mapasa natin.

So there’s a deep history in all of this and what I wanted to say was there are stories to be told. So when I mentioned the story about then Senate President Frank Drilon having to take up the defense of a new bill altogether – by the way, he didn’t just take it up – he had to rewrite the whole bill because the bill that was presented to the Senate was a joke. And by the way, for the young people, nag-uumpisa pa lang ang social media noon. So the pressure that was put upon the sponsor of that bill was done through the brick and mortar, regular media, people who, well mostly the doctors, DOH people who said, “Hindi talaga kami papayag dito.” That’s how that happened. And then Sen. Drilon asked me to be the one to review the health aspect as he took care of the taxation aspect. So alam niyo na yan, pumasa na yan [Sin Tax Bill] 2012.

And then, interestingly, when I went back to the Senate after I won my seat in 2019, then Senate President Tito Sotto asked me to be the Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means. So in the earlier days, when I got involved in Sin Tax, that was because I was the Chairperson of the Committee on Health, and that’s how I ended up working with you and your team, Sec. Ona. So ngayon naman, I was asked to be Committee on Ways and Means [Chairperson]. And I’m a graduate of the UP School of Economics, taxation was very interesting for me, but it wasn’t really my practice, and I’d like to be good at what I do. So I was like, “eh, not so interested.” And then [Speaker Alan Cayetano] separately told me that Sec. Sonny Dominguez really, really wanted to work with me. Talaga? Nakakatuwa naman, di ba? Somebody tells you, somebody you look up to, really, really wants to work with me. Sabi ko, ano ba agenda? Sin Tax. Ay, hindi na ako maka-hindi. Kasi Sin Tax talaga, that’s really the reason I said yes to handling Ways and Means.

And as a mother, I feel very strongly about using the full force of government to help address this crisis. Not just health advocacy, but through using the power of taxation.

So long story short, we did that, we got it done [passage of the Sin Tax Law of 2020]. I was so happy because during the last few days, the final bill.. JV, of course you only heard of this lang by kwento, but naiyakan na kita niyan, di ba, yung mga nangyari? We were so happy because we were able to put in provisions on the [Food and Drug Administration] having the regulatory powers, age 21 [as minimum age of access to vape products], and the limitation of the flavors. Basically, walang flavor, di ba? Can you imagine? We were so happy.

What I want all of you to know is this, you see me and JV here, we are passionate health advocates. But like you were saying, Tony, many people don’t know the role of legislators here, right? And we appreciate being here. That’s why from Cebu bumalik talaga ako because I want to be part of this celebration.

But this is also what happened. During the bicameral conference [on the Sin Tax Bill], which is where the House and the Senate meet to reconcile, ibang iba ang version namin, mas mataas ang tax namin. Alam niyo yun, mas mataas ang tax namin because pinaglaban ko yun, mas mataas pa ang version ko kaysa sa Department of Finance. And Tito Sonny said, “Wow, okay. Okay sa amin yan.” Anyway, some of my colleagues felt hindi raw ako grounded, lumulutang daw ako, hindi ko raw alam yung nangyayari. Sabi ko, hindi, alam ko ang nangyayari, ayaw niyong taasan ang taxes, gusto niyo diktahan kayo ng industry. We’re one of the lowest pa rin in the region. Hindi ba, yun lang naman ang sa akin. Ina-align ko lang naman.

Anyway, ang kwento ko is this. What happened in the bicam, which was the inclusion of those three provisions I made, these would not be possible without the instructions and the support of my brother, then Speaker Alan Cayetano. You think of me as your health advocate, but my brother is the strategist. Because you know naman how it works, for those of you who worked with the House. Hindi niyo magagawa yan kung wala ang Speaker. Kung diktahan ng Speaker na, “ayaw ko nyan,” wala, hindi mangyayari yun. So I want Alan to get due recognition for this kasi kahit anong sabihin ko, and some of my colleagues, as you know, kayo na lang magbulungan, some of you don’t know, some of my colleagues are downright tobacco supporters. They were with me in the bicam. How could we have made it happen? Because my brother was the Speaker. That’s the simple truth.

So I move on. Barely a few months later, hindi na Speaker si Alan, and guess what? The House, pinaandar na nila yung, ano bang pangalan nun? Vapes, e-cigs regulation bill. Kay Alan, bantay yun. Ako ate di ba? So I can say, “Al, huwag na huwag mong ipapagalaw yan, ha?” So hindi gumalaw yun. Pero noong hindi na siya Speaker, ayun na, naging bill na, pumasa na yan sa House. And then sa Senate, pinabantayan ko, ano nangyari? JV, wala ka kasi doon. Ikaw talaga.

So the rest is history. One of the loneliest days of my life is having to oppose that bill from my house. Kasi I had the opportunity to attend an international conference, the first, this was 2021 November. Tapos ano ang variant na lumabas noon? [referring to the Delta variant] Nasa conference ako, hindi naka-mask ang mga tao doon.. so pagbalik ko, humaba ang quarantine, hindi ako nakapunta sa Senate to defend my position in person. I defended it from my house, without staff, without lawyers in front me. Kaya ko yun, pikit-mata kaya ko yun, alam niyo yun. But iba pa rin ang human warmth, yung support, which you always gave me in person.

It is what it is. Talo. But you know what, there’s a reason for everything. Kumbaga sa basketball, we just lost a quarter, or we lost a game. May second round pa yan, may championship pa yan, di ba? We’re in it for the long run.

So I end with my gratitude to all of you. We all have a role to play. Every role is important. Even my daughters, your kids. When my daughters repost what I post, it means something to me, because that means they understand my fight. And all the little things we each do.

Anyway, I want to end with two quick things. Our representative from the youth mentioned smoke-free something, right? Exactly the same term? Anyway… Philippine smoke-free movement. Thank you. But the largest tobacco companies call their move a ‘smoke-free’ move. So now, every time somebody messages me, “We are advocates for smoke-free,” teka muna, anong klaseng smoke-free kayo? You know? So I think we have to be creative here because that is the panloloko na ginagawa nila. Eh ano pa magagawa natin? Eh di call it out. That cannot be. I don’t know if you can bring that to court. Obviously, in this gathering, we know what we mean. But can you imagine if somebody called me and I didn’t check, and I told my staff, “Sige tulungan niyo yan.” Buti na lang my staff is also aware of this misuse of that term. Deliberately confusing use of that term. So that’s something.

So I had to tell my sister-in-law, [Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano], at the time si [then Mayor Lino Cayetano], “Oy, ingatan niyo yan may lalapit sa inyo, may ibibigay pang ordinance.” You know that, right? May bitbit silang ordinance, ibibigay nila sa munisipyo, sa mga cities, smoke-free. May ganun. On its face naman, kahit alam ng lahat ng konsehal na ito ang advocacy ni Sen. Pia Cayetano, and they are in full support, at a glance, they think it’s a good thing. So we have to be very, very vigilant about it.

So that is, I think, what I wanted to remind everyone of. And finally, in New Zealand, parang every kid who was born a certain year, they will never touch a cigarette. What a dream, di ba? So saan na tayo doon? Every kid will have a chance to use an e-cigarette in this country kasi dadalhin na sa sari-sari store. What’s our narrative? What do we want? So there, that’s the thought I want to leave with everyone, those challenges that we have.

And on that note, again, thank you so much to everyone. Keep up the good work, I am honored to be in the company of each one of you. #

*Speech at the ‘Atin ang Sin Tax: 10 Years of Unity for Health’ (January 20, 2023)

 

Atin Ito Sin Tax
Senator Pia S. Cayetano joins a gathering of health advocates for the 10th year of the Sin Tax Law. With her are Dra. Maricar Limpin, executive director of the FCTC Alliance Philippines or FCAP, and Dr. Yul Dorotheo, executive director, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance or SEATCA. Cayetano co-sponsored the Sin Tax Law of 2012 (RA 10351) as Senate health committee chair, and the Sin Tax Law of 2020 (RA 11467) as Senate ways and means committee chair.
Senator Pia S. Cayetano receives a commendation from the Sin Tax Coalition for her efforts in leading the fight to tax harmful vices and channeling its proceeds to improve the public health system.
Speaking at an event marking the 10th year of the Sin Tax Law, Senator Pia S. Cayetano said the fight for health continues, especially for our children and the youth.
Senator Pia Cayetano with fellow health advocates (L-R): Dra. Maricar Limpin, Dr. Antonio Dans, and Dra. Leonila Dans.

Pia slams vape promo event disguised as a scientific forum

Pia slams vape promo event disguised as a scientific forum
Highlights from the privilege speech of Senator Pia S. Cayetano
November 8, 2022

Mr. President, every day, there are different articles on the harmful effects of vape products and the danger it poses to users, especially the youth.

May I direct our colleagues to the screen to view some headlines and I will read some [reads news headlines from the plenary monitor]:

•”Vaping has similar impact on the heart as cigarettes, studies warn”;

•”Is vaping really better than smoking? Experts warn vapers [are] exposed to more nicotine”; [and]

•”Vaping adults displayed worrisome changes in blood pressure and heart function, studies find”.

So ayan, for our friends, colleagues, Filipinos who are engaging in vaping, e-cigarettes, may mga health warning talaga ang mga expert. Araw-araw, nakakakita ako n’yan sa news. And yet here we are your honors…the reason for this privilege speech.

Last Thursday, November 3, Philip Morris International… I think they are now calling themselves PMI… issued various invitations to Filipino doctors to attend what they described as a scientific forum, wherein foreign health “experts” discussed vape products as a tobacco harm reduction tool.

Mr. President, I see this as an underhanded move by the tobacco and vape industry to unduly influence members of our medical community to be more accepting of their products, despite the known ill effects of vaping on public health, especially the youth.

What does our law say? The recently passed Vape Law, in Section 12… specifically says that no vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products, or novel tobacco products shall have medicinal or therapeutic claims on its marketing material or packaging, unless such claim is approved by the FDA, pursuant to RA 9711.

Mr President, there is also the FDA Law. Many times, I have brought this up and I will do it again for the record. The FDA defines “health products.” Health products means, “food, drugs, cosmetics, devices, biologicals, vaccines, in-vitro diagnostic reagents and household/urban hazardous substances and/or a combination of and/or a derivative thereof.”

Ito na ang importante: “It shall also refer to products that may have an effect on health which require regulations as determined by the FDA.”

So any product that has an effect on health must be regulated by the FDA. And that’s why mayroon tayong rules and laws that say na bawal mag-claim na mayroong positive health effects, na ang isang produkto katulad ng vapes and e-cigarettes ay ‘harm reduction,” unless nag-register ka as a harm reduction product. Kung hindi ka nag-register [ng vape] as a harm reduction product, you have no business promoting anything. You have no business bringing your so-called ‘health experts’ to the Philippines to talk about harm reduction and the benefits of vaping.

Ayan nga, nasa news delikado siya [vaping]. If you have claims otherwise, then bring it to the FDA and get permission to claim that your products are health products that are now being properly regulated.

Mr. President, this is underhanded and unethical. Again, I will demonstrate to the body and the public some things that are in my handbag that require FDA regulation [shows different products from her bag]:

•eyedrops, sa mata lang ito hindi ito nilalanghap, kailangan ng FDA regulation;

•lipstick, hindi ko ito nilulunok, nilalagay ko lang sa lips ko, kailangan ng FDA regulation;

•powder na may SPF 50, pinapahid ko lang sa mukha ko, hindi ko inaamoy, hindi ko nilulunok, kailangan ng FDA regulation;

•sunblock para sa lips, moisturizer and sunblock, kailangan din ng FDA regulation, hindi ko rin iniinom ito, hindi ko rin nilulunok;

•eye shadow, ganun din pinapahid ko lang sa mata ko hindi sa loob, sa balat; and finally

•alcohol, alam n’yo yan lahat yan, kailangan ng FDA regulation.

Hindi pwede mag-claim na pwedeng gamitin sa isang bagay. Kung ano lang ang pwede, doon lang pwede. So ang tobacco products, and itong mga tinatawag na novel tobacco products, hindi pwedeng basta-basta i-promote yan kahit sa mga doktor na nakakabuti.

Ang mga doktor natin, magagaling. Pero nagre-rely din sila sa mga tinatawag na scientists o experts para bigyan din sila ng bagong impormasyon. Eh yan nga ang mga bagong impormasyon. Ang PMI, magpapa-seminar o tinatawag na “scientific forum” at ang mga imbitado ay mga doktor. May kopya ako ng invitation para sabihin ang beneficial effects ng e-cigarettes, vapes, heated tobacco products. Hindi pwede yun. Bawal yun. It is unethical, your honor.

And it is my firm belief that since we are about to discuss the budget, sayang na andami sa atin…Senator Bong Go just stood up to promote the support for more budget for health, and our Chairman, Sen. Angara is trying to find funding to support health. May additional funding pa yun for health workers, who have dedicated their lives, who have risked their lives during the time of COVID, at the height of COVID, may utang pa tayo sa kanila [medical frontliners], di ba, Sen. Angara? Bilyon ang utang natin sa kanila, tinaya nila ang buhay nila.

Tapos, ito tayo, with one hand, naghahanap ng pondo para tulungan ang health, and with the other hand, pinapabayaan natin ang mga seminar na ito na gumagawa ng health claims na wala namang permiso ng FDA.

So yun lang ang sa akin, Mr President, because this Congress, not this Senate, [but] the previous Senate, passed the Vape Law which happily includes a provision that says na bawal gawin yun. So hindi natin dapat payagan na gawin nila yun. Trabaho ba natin yun? Hindi, trabaho ng FDA at DOH yan. But it is my job to bring it to the attention of the body para sama-sama naman tayong manindigan na hindi tayo pwedeng ganyanin. Hindi pwedeng ang kabataan, ang mga Pilipino, pinagbobola at pinagloloko na dinadaan pa sa doktor ang information na ito na hindi ho tama.

Let me end with a few other visuals. Tingnan niyo naman please, my dear colleagues, ang nasa ad na ito, because the journal does not have pictures. I will just describe, ito po ay mga advertisement [shows old cigarette promotional ads] na ang bida ay doktor, o at least mukhang doktor na pino-promote ang sigarilyo. Di ba ngayon medyo nasha-shock tayo? Wow talaga ha, gumamit pa ng doktor to promote cigarettes.

But this is how it was maybe 50 years ago, your honors. Doktor, dentista ang ginagamit. Guess what? Ngayon, fast forward, ganun pa rin ginagamit nila. Doktor ngayon ang gusto nilang bolahin para doktor din ang magpo-promote ng vapes and e-cigs. It’s the same story. Huwag naman tayong magpabola. Ngayon, shocked tayo.

With all due respect, I try to be a responsible chairman of the Committee on SDGs and Futures Thinking. So let’s put ourselves 50 years from now. Titingnan din natin ang ads na ang kasama ay doktor na nagpo-promote ng vapes and e-cigs, at sasabihin din natin, na ha? Ganun? Pumayag tayo na ganun? So ngayon pa lang, pumayag naman kayo na samahan ako na hindi tayo papayag na ganyan, na nagpapa-seminar in the guise of a scientific forum.

In fact, your honors, ang isang invitation nila, let me read the details. Sabi nila, it’s an “oncology event.” So oncologists pa, specialists pa ng cancer ang inimbita nila para sabihin na ano? Mag-vape na lang ang mga pasyente n’yo? Tama ba yun? Hindi tama yun, your honors.

So on that note, let’s celebrate our anniversary and be united in fighting the good fight. Thank you, Mr President, thank you Majority Floor Leader, naisingit mo ako sa masikip nating schedule and thank you, dear colleagues.#

My heart is broken, my spirit is not

Statement of Sen. Pia S. Cayetano on the lapsing of the Vape Bill into law

I felt a glimmer of hope while listening to the SONA yesterday, when the President repeatedly emphasized that science will be a cornerstone of his administration’s programs, including in health and education.

I thought this means that the Vape Bill would be vetoed, because the science clearly tells us just how harmful these products are, while medical experts have repeatedly said how the Vape Bill masquerades as a health measure, as it really pushes for de-regulation, not regulation, and harm introduction, not harm reduction.

To say that I am disappointed in the 18th Congress that passed the bill, and with the President for not vetoing it, will not do justice to the millions of lives that will be put in harm’s way because of the Vape Law.

My heart is broken but my spirit is not.

I will never stop fighting for the health and well-being of the Filipinos, even against strong lobbies of industries and policymakers who choose to support their interests over the people.#

Call to Veto the Vape Bill
Senator Pia Cayetano expresses disappointment over the lapsing of the Vape Bill into law, despite the strong opposition expressed by several medical associations, which cited the measure’s dangers to public health and the youth.

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.”