Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

21st Anniversary Celebration of the St. Luke's Heart Institute - Aug. 6, 2007

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
August 06, 2007— Quezon City, the Philippines
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Thank you.

Thank you very much, Joe, for your kind introduction and congratulations for you and to Chairman Kuan for leading the team that has made St. Luke's a world power in health care. Congratulations!

Secretary Pingkoy Duque; Tony Sibulo, Director of the St. Luke's Heart Institute; the Board of Trustees of St. Luke's; the Executive Committee of the Heart Institute; the directors and department heads of this great institution; Congressman Monico Puentevella, who is not the Chairman of the Committee on Health but, are you the outstanding patient? And to all of you ladies and gentlemen, Happy Anniversary! You truly honor the memory of Bill Quasha with your excellent health care.

You're better equipped than 95 percent of American hospitals. I know for one thing you have the first pet scanner in Asia and the only one in the Philippines. And I understand from my friends who have their check-ups abroad that typically six American hospitals share one pet scan that goes around among them during the week. But you have your own exclusive machine, which I had the privilege of using during my own executive check-up. Congratulations!

And of course, your doctors and medical personnel are second to none, including and especially the institute that we are celebrating today -- the heart institute which takes care of the hearts of people. So, congratulations! To Dr. Sibulo and the St. Luke's Heart Institute. to Dr. Calleja, the first head of the institute, on the occasion of your 21st anniversary.

And as a family, we know how world class heart care is in the Philippines because Dr. Rommel Cariño, our Philippine-educated heart surgeon and your team from the institute brought back my husband from the brink of death.

Now four months later, he can play 18 round holes of golf. And when I left Malacañang this morning, he was on his treadmill. So he has already put together his own healthy lifestyle as a result of all of the advice that Joe and the rest of the doctors have been giving him including Juliet Cervantes. Juliet is not a heart doctor but we first thought that mike was coming here because of his gastric problems but Juliet after observing him for so many hours said, it's too painful for it to be a gastric problem. So we had the test done all over again and sure enough then it was the aorta. So, thank you so much for saving the life of my husband.

We can only repay you by ensuring that our administration cares for the health and well-being of our people.

So while our economy has reached a new level of maturity and stability with some of the strongest macroeconomic fundamentals in a decade. We are not resting, rather forging ahead to sustain the momentum. To instill permanent change, we're making long overdue investments in human and physical infrastructure. This includes billions of pesos in health care.

We're following up the pain of raising tax measures including the tax on doctors. With the gain that only comes from significant investment in people and projects, only then will we truly ensure that progress cannot be reversed.

With our improved economic conditions and fiscal situation, we're increasing investment in our country, in our people to improve social services, for instance, health insurance for indigent families.

We've enrolled four million indigent families or 20 million poor Filipinos in Philhealth, compared to 1,500 families -- I think, in 2001 -- in the hope that all these Filipinos who now have Philhealth cards can have greater access to world-class hospitalization like what St. Luke's has to offer.

As I said in my State of the Nation Address last time, sa unang pagkakataon, gumastos ang Philhealth ng higit three billion pesos para paospital ng maralita. And with that, Philhealth pays a portion of their bills when they are confined in great first class hospitals like St. Luke's.

And today, Pingkoy Duque's team is studying the introduction of outpatient Philhealth screening packages for cardiovascular and related diseases. If this study indicates that the program is feasible, it will empower even more Filipinos to consult and take their tests at world-class facilities like the heart institute even if they don't have to be hospitalized at the end of the test.

Our long-term goal extends beyond keeping stress and blood pressure down. Ours is a battle to save lives, to promote a good quality of life for every ordinary Filipino, and to ensure the health of the heart and the future of this nation.

Speaking of battle, we're doing all this during a time for war and welfare.

On the war track, I have sent a group of doctors and medical personnel from the V. Luna Medical Center for the military to augment the field hospital in Zamboanga. The field hospital for the West Mindanao command. The doctors will conduct free clinics in the areas affected by hostilities in Basilan, Lamitan, Isabela and even Tipo-Tipo, thereby adding a civic action dimension to their mission. As we dispatch them, I take this opportunity of national television carrying us, to issue this stern warning to the terrorists: "these medical professionals are on a mission of compassion. They will treat people whose lot you have worsened by your belligerence when the peace we have pursued would have allowed them to join the rest of the nation in productive pursuits. Harm them and Hades will come to you."

On the welfare track, we are expanding the menu of our social payback offerings, to initially include -- and I was talking to Pingkoy this morning -- fast tracking the creation of regional heart, kidney and lung centers in key cities. Especially for those patients who cannot physically travel to Manila not only because they can't afford it maybe but also because their health condition, their medical condition will not allow them. For instance, patients in the provinces with a torn aorta like what my husband was operated on here in St. Luke's will be more exposed to risk from the high altitude if they try to fly to Manila.

Therefore, we need little St. Luke's institutes in the different main regional centers. The regional heart, lung and kidney centers shall be piloted initially in the Vicente Sotto Hospital in Cebu, the Davao Medical Center in Davao, the Northern Mindanao Regional Center in Cagayan De Oro and the Bicol Regional Center in Legaspi. Actually, the beginnings of this is the Japanese supported project. But this morning, I instructed Secretary Duque to increase government equity and thereby expand coverage and expedite implementation.

How can we afford this? Because I got a report the other day from Secretary Nonoy Andaya that we are able to save 20 billion pesos in debt servicing from the lower interest at present we have to pay and also from the stronger peso. Debt servicing resulting from a stronger peso can be funneled to this. So it's from debt service to health service. And as I had a message for terrorists earlier, I had a message to our people. And the message is: "better fiscal health of the country results in health care closer to your home."

The regional heart, lung and kidney centers is the next logical step after we upgraded 35 local government hospitals. Thirty two primary care hospitals are being promoted to secondary care hospitals with national government support, and three secondary care hospitals are being promoted, upgraded to tertiary hospitals, again, with subsidy on the equipment from the national government.

And because health care is not only the care of the doctors and the tests but also medicines, we now have 10,000 Botika ng Barangay selling half-priced medicines. And I called on our Congress to pass legislation to bring cheaper medicines to our people. But also I called on Congress to have improved long-term care for our senior citizens.

Here in St. Luke's, I know that aside from heart care, one of the many excellent world class services St. Luke's is famous for is geriatric care. In fact, I had the honor to be your guest when the geriatric care unit was opened. So, I hope that the great doctors of St. Luke's who organized the geriatric care program of St. Luke's can also help us craft the legislation for long-term geriatric care as a public health service for the country.

But I don't know if simple old age is the largest cause of death because I understand that the number one killer of Filipinos today is cardiovascular disease, claiming more lives each year than the next three leading causes of death combined.

And I hear from the word health organization that we can cut deaths and disability from cardiovascular disease by half simply by targeting the major risk factors. This calls for the Department of Health and its allies -- the Philippine Heart Association and all other professional groups who are part of the healthy lifestyles coalition -- to wage an all-out campaign to educate Filipinos in their homes and communities where the real battle must be fought.

So I hope that St. Luke's Heart Institute can also help us to be advocates in our families, workplaces, schools, civic organizations, and all local and national constituencies to promote heart-healthy lifestyles.

To help us make sure that all Filipinos are aware of the dangers of hypertension and obesity, as well as other risk factors like smoking and physical inactivity; and that they learn to live and work in wholesome environments, and that they have access to affordable and quality healthcare.

This is one thing we can do together. We can advocate together a complete smoking ban in all public places for one thing.

The concerted action of the government, professional societies, advocacy groups, patients and communities are needed to win this fight.

Indeed, building healthy hearts builds a strong nation. And the St. Luke's Heart Institute has been at the heart of this vital challenge for 21 years now.

Once again, congratulations!

Mabuhay! And thank you.

Macapagal-Arroyo, Gloria. 2007. "Speech of President Arroyo during the opening program of the 21st anniversary Celebration of the St. Luke’s Heart Institute." The Official Gazette, Aug. 6, 2007.