Sunday, February 24, 2019

Social Commentary: Universal Healthcare for All Filipinos

It was in August 2018 that I fell in line to pay for the annual Philhealth contribution of my sister and her family. I was glad to see hundreds of people who were there to invest in health insurance in exchange for good Healthcare benefits offered by the agency.  As a healthcare worker, I have pledged not only to the healing of sick people but also to become an advocate for health promotion and prevention. That time as I was seated on a chair to wait for my priority number to flash on the screen, I had a realization that people, no matter their economic status, are now becoming more aware of the advantages of having a healthy family that is free of illnesses and diseases and becoming a productive contributor in the society. 

But how about those individuals or families without access to primary healthcare due to economic hardship? They may feel ineligible and intimidated by their Healthcare rights, and they remain vulnerable to health crises and threats. 

I'm glad that on February 20, 2019, the Universal Healthcare Act was finally enacted into law, granting all Filipinos access to affordable and better healthcare. This is a positive and perhaps the most significant measure towards healthier citizens leading to productivity and wellness. 

Talking about the agency that has the mandate for its implementation, the Philippine Health Insurance Company or Philhealth will have to ensure the automatic eligibility and membership of all Filipinos regardless of social and economic standing, more excellent service for our less privileged families and individuals. 

The Fight for Universal Healthcare

This new law is not just an achievement of the legislative and executive body but an outstanding achievement of all Filipinos who have long been hoping for this initiative.

Just imagine how Western countries could give Universal Healthcare to their citizens that started several years or decades back, and why couldn't our government do the same? This has been a puzzle to other Filipinos who had a glimpse of the Healthcare status in a foreign country and me. 

Now our time has come, but the implementing rules and regulations of the new law are yet to be laid, and we have to be aware of the Healthcare coverage, how we can truly benefit from it, and when shall we start to benefit from it. 

Benefits of the Universal Healthcare Law

Philhealth can guarantee essential Healthcare services to exist, premium contributors, indirect contributors, or indigents like our Senior Citizens and Persons with disabilities and non-indigent or non-premium contributors. That would mean free consultation, laboratory tests, and diagnostic tests are among the essential services covered by everyone. Almost all scope of health includes preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative, and palliative care, giving everyone holistic health and wellness. 

Sustainable Healthcare development 

Although we welcome the extraordinary Healthcare measures, we are yet to experience how they will be delivered. The funding source has been determined, and the implementation of this new law will be gradual, considering that the funding will come from a pool of different agency funds. 

The new law is very promising. However, we would also like to see its more tremendous success and development from now and in years to come and not be exploited and mismanaged by our people in the Healthcare authority. 

Issues in the Philippine Health Insurance

Our National Health Insurance Company, Philhealth, and private Health Management Organizations (HMO) have been delivering their healthcare services in partnership with our Healthcare institutions, hospitals, clinics, and health centers nationwide. They have always been to the rescue whenever we seek medical help. However, their insurance coverage needs to be more comprehensive as they do not cover all health conditions and other health services. This has been a challenge for those who couldn't afford or have financial difficulty seeking medical attention. 

While working at The Medical City in Iloilo, I learned about issues like non-payment or delay of payment of Philhealth for hospital claims to several member hospitals in the country. This would also cause a delay in the hospitals paying their medical providers. This has led to another issue: some medical providers would charge their clients an additional cash payment for a professional fee already covered by Philhealth. This issue happened to my sister, and she asserted her rights against the double charging of her provider.  This scenario will lose the confidence of other Philhealth members if such a case happens to them, which is against the primary goal of Philhealth its mandate to lessen the financial burden of Filipinos upon seeking medical treatment. 

Continuous Healthcare reform 

The Universal Healthcare law is a good start in providing Healthcare access to All Filipinos, a measure that no one will be excluded and left behind in Healthcare services due to poor economic status. 

However, challenges in Government and corporate social service are still something Filipinos must fight to achieve better healthcare. 

For Philhealth, may the agency uphold good governance and update its policies and coverage to package benefits that are not selective to a particular medical condition. This is a burden to the Filipino people because we do not choose the kind of disease once it strikes just to be covered by our insurance provider. We need to decide when to get sick and when to get treated. We don't select the end of our physical suffering and the end of our life. 

We don't have control over our health crisis, but we can do something for its promotion and prevention so we will not suffer and pay for its consequence. We must take good care of our health to avoid illnesses and diseases. Though inevitable, we can help ourselves, our families, and our communities by choosing a healthy lifestyle away from too much stress and vices to achieve health and longevity, leading to the productive citizen we can be.

As we continue to contribute towards nation-building, we have to be respectfully assertive of our healthcare bill of rights and, at the same time, be supportive of our Government's mandate to provide better healthcare to All Filipinos so we can achieve wellness can live our most extraordinary life.

© 2019 Del Cusay

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Social Commentary: The Voice of the Filipino Farmers

Philippine Agriculture was once an up-and-coming sector in its excellence in providing good agricultural products to every Filipino through an active and strategic partnership between our farmers and the Government. 

We were an agricultural leader in Asia back then, and our Agricultural Scientists used to share their expertise in rice farming with other Asian countries like Vietnam and Thailand.

I remember back in the late '80s when we used to play by throwing mud in the newly plowed rice field just after the harvest season when rice farming was the primary source of livelihood for most families in our town. Whenever we visit other barangays from the town center, we get to breathe in the fresher air passing through the green field of newly planted rice during the planting season, while during the dry season, just before the harvest in March or April, the field turns into a beautiful golden brown grain of rice.

Those days were when rice farming was a robust industry and highly profitable for farmers and traders who bought and sold rice. Those were also the busy days for my parents to make a living as rice traders in our town, lasting about 2 decades.

As a kid, it was hard to compete for attention with our parents on some busy days when they bought hundreds of sacks of rice from our local farmers, but that was also a good time for play whenever it was already stacked in our warehouse; the kind of play that some kids of today may not relate. Those were the past and one of the happiest moments worth remembering.

Challenges in the Agriculture 

Starting in the new millennium, several challenges emerged in our Agricultural sector, especially in the rice industry. There were corruption issues with the Agriculture Department and the National Food Authority, a Government agency that regulates and maintains sufficient rice supplies for the staple food of Filipinos. Other problems include a lack of government support for farming machinery like pre and post-harvest facilities, conversion of agricultural land to residential or industrial, and the low trade price of rice production from the farmers due to the proliferation of rice cartels.

In recent years, our Government faced even more challenges, like increasing the price of commercial rice due to artificially low supply against its high demand to feed millions of Filipinos. With the lack of agricultural facilities, we cannot produce the best quality and quantity of rice leading to lesser productivity and profitability for our rice farmers.

The Rice Tarrification Law

Fast forward to 2019, just recently on February 15, when the Rice Tarrification Bill was enacted to deregulate rice importation by private businessmen and individuals from countries like Thailand and Vietnam. The law also made some restrictions on the power of NFA for regulation and importation of rice, and they will just maintain enough stocks of rice for calamities. One of the best promises in the revised law is the annual 10 billion peso Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund for 6 years. It will be assessed whether to continue or change the measure. The RCEF is a common fund that will come from the rice import taxes that are said to be given to farmers to address the existing challenges in rice production, like the purchase of farm machinery, to provide credit or loan service to farmers for skills development in farming.

The effect on our rice farmers

This new law has a short-term goal of addressing the current inflation when our poor families can't afford to buy expensive rice. However, this could also affect our local rice farmers when they cannot sell their produce at a reasonable price making them helpless and leaving no choice but to continue rice farming as a means of livelihood.

The flooding of cheaper commercial rice in the market will benefit Filipino consumers. However, the promises of the newly enacted law would be less promising than they seem. We must remember the alleged agricultural scams like the fertilizer fund scam, the diversion of farming funds to fake NGOs, and the present-day 'bukbok' rice or the insect-infested imported rice despite its lower price. Hopefully, this RCEF will not be another corruption in the making.

If there's an existing corruption in the Agricultural sector that remains a culture, the new law shouldn't be at the expense of our local farmers. Although we can give a new direction a chance for its benefits, I still feel for the unheard voices of our farmers. I am a rice farmer's son, and I have seen the hardship of our farmers who sweat it out under the sun even though the rain gives us a staple food to eat on our table. Our farmers deserve to have a better life through the full support of our government from laws and programs that would help improve their most significant source of livelihood.

We want to see something other than one day, our farmlands, previously owned by ordinary farmers, will become a gated community or townhouse owned by an oligarch. We want our country to retain agricultural scientists who prefer to work abroad for a greener pasture. We want our future children to be interested in farming studies and activities. And we want to avoid seeing our farmers dying because they need something to eat. After all, the government killed the rice farming industry.

As I return home to our hometown, another previously farmland townhouse might rise, and another hectare for private houses along the road might be built. This happens when farmers sell their land to real estate developers for residential or industrial development.

In a few years, our next generation might not be able to enjoy the greenfield and the golden brown rice harvest that we used to enjoy. Those years of pure happiness away from modernity and technology that the present time has embraced. In a few years, we will gradually be shifting from agricultural to industrial, and the vast farmland and lush greeneries will be a thing of the past.

Let us help save our Agricultural sector by hearing the voices of our farmers, who are the source and significant producers of our food on the table. Let us patronize local produce and learn to appreciate and embrace agriculture in our modern way of living to help our farmers thrive and live the decent and comfortable life they deserve.

© 2019 Del Cusay

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Heart's Desire: Evolution of Love

To love someone and be loved in return must be a source of joy, especially when suffering from emotional setbacks like loneliness, apathy, and grief. Sometimes, some people struggle to find the real meaning of love when they feel lost and empty.

However, love has a different meaning to individuals. For the orphan, a warm hug gives them a feeling of acceptance and security. Raising their kids well for single parents and a widow gives them dignity and pride. The elderly get the highest respect from the young ones. These are the positive emotions where love wins.

In today's society, we also have the victims of circumstances that made them view love differently. The homeless feel less secure and abandoned. The rebel groups, they may feel deprived of equal rights and opportunities. And the sick and dying may feel unfulfilled, uncared for, and unloved.

Love has several meanings as we go through the stages of life. As a kid, we felt so much love from our parents. As we go through our teenage years, we think about the acceptance and love of our peers. When working and serving people, we love our countrymen and the nation. That is how love evolves over time. 

Following Our Heart's Desire is a reminder to chase our most coveted goals to achieve and to keep going on when life seems to be challenging in the achievement of our most cherished hopes and dreams. That may be the stage when we have all the energy and hopeful desires for success.

Heart's Desire: Living A Fantastic Life is a service beyond self. It's about experiencing bliss, a higher level of Divinely inspired happiness. When we reach out to others through public service, we give part of our Divinity inherent to a human being. Then we go beyond our selfish desires, which are all about us, our ego.

Heart's Desire: Living A Humanitarian Life is a realization of a higher level of love when we go beyond our love for self and love for our family. It is about humanitarian service through charity work or public service, allowing us to serve the privileged and underprivileged sectors.

The evolution of love may be beyond life on earth as we may believe in 'life after death and may continue to guide the loved ones who are still fighting for love, the meaning of love, and their evolution of love.

© 2019 Del Cusay

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Election 2019: Making Voices Heard

The official campaign period for the National midterm election has already started. However, it's pronounced premature campaigning when we have seen political ads on television and street posters since 2018.

In the coming May 13 election, we will again select and vote for the candidates who will serve our country and the people. We will choose our 12 Senatorial bets for the national post and elect our own officials, from Provincial Governors down to Municipal Councilors.

It's a midterm election, and several candidates now share their political views and expertise on issues confronting our nation. Several problems are currently widespread, like the drug war, extrajudicial killings, terrorism, medical marijuana, the age of criminal responsibility, the defense of territorial waters, and the revival of the death penalty. 

We also have long-time issues such as poverty alleviation, graft and corruption, unemployment, drug addiction, crime prevention, population control, reproductive health, environmental protection, and climate change. These are some of the many issues our national candidates face once elected. Our local candidates will represent the interests of their constituents and legislate local laws or ordinances to address socio-political issues and uplift the living conditions of the people.

The media significantly influences the public to know the candidate's profile, background, and experience. The good thing is that the media organizations serve as a medium for learning our candidate's platforms and intentions. 

I have watched the senatorial forum hosted by CNN Philippines and the Senatorial debate from the GMA network this month. Thousands of Filipinos could hear what their senatorial bets had to say on various issues. We may have different reactions or emotions to their views; either we agreed and were amused or disagreed and disappointed. 

On March 29, we will also hear our local candidates' political views. It may not be as grand as the national candidates' campaign, but their common intention is to serve and be the voice of their constituents. 

The campaign period may be the most exhausting part of the candidate's possible victory since they devote their energy, time, and money. Thus, we, the voters, must also spend some time getting to know our candidates. Their stance on various issues of our nation and locality is significant in nation-building and good governance. 

Amidst the different voices, we can learn how to filter those who are significant and reflect our values and virtues. Our guiding principle shall rule and not the outside influence brought by media and black propaganda. 

Our vote matters, and let us exercise this right in the upcoming May 13 election. For now, it is not just the fight of our candidates but also the fight of all Filipino people toward a better community and country.

© 2019 Del Cusay

Friday, February 8, 2019

Social Commentary: Lessons from Vaccination Scare and Disease Outbreak

On February 6, 2019, the Department of Health declared an outbreak of measles in the National Capital Region, including regions in Luzon, Central Luzon, and CALABARZON. Just a day after, it was reported that the outbreak expanded in the Visayas, Central, Eastern, and Western Visayas.

The disease outbreak is just a year after the controversial Dengvaxia scare, with several deaths of children linked with Dengvaxia: a vaccine for Dengue.

Although it was not medically proven through studies and investigation by the Department of Health, still the Public Attorney's Office, headed by its Chief, Persida Acosta, defended the human rights of her clients when she insisted that it was indeed the Dengvaxia vaccine that caused the death of children who received it.

How the deadly controversy started

It was revealed late last year by Acosta that the President himself ordered her office to pursue filing a criminal complaint against several personalities of the past administration who are allegedly involved in the Dengvaxia controversy, and that includes former President Aquino, Former Department of Health Secretary Garin, and the present DOH Secretary Duque.

Since then, Acosta has actively pushed for public information on the dangers of  Dengvaxia and the vaccination program, and this controversy led to discouragement and fear against vaccination. 

Dr. Acosta is interested in fighting for her client's rights and following his excellency, the President. As a Doctor of Social Development, she has the expertise and advocacy for human rights and legal aid; that is where she comes from.

From Advocacy to Disaster 

Apparently, Acosta's advocacy went wrong when her allegations about the Dengvaxia-related deaths caused a sudden drop in immunization records of the DOH starting in 2018 until the present. Parents are scared to have their children vaccinated by Dengvaxia and even other vaccinations, including MMR vaccines (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) which have caused an epidemic of measles in several regions in the country and were reported to be thousands of cases and several deaths already. 

Disinformation and fake news can kill

With the Dengvaxia scare, over 2 million Filipino children are currently at risk of contracting measles, a highly infectious airborne disease-causing respiratory complications that can be lethal. 

This would not have happened if there had been no mass hysteria coming from several personalities from broadcast media and social media. The disinformation easily spread and was accepted by their followers to be an absolute truth. 

Nowadays, thousands or millions of Filipinos are victims of fake news or disinformation with social media. Social media influencers have to be responsible for their words or statement to not create confusion, and also for followers and the general public to learn how to decipher real news from fake ones.

Turnaround of circumstances.

With the rising number of measles cases across the country, the Department of Health and President Duterte has stepped up to lead a campaign on national television for families to have their children vaccinated against diseases. The public call was followed by Vice President Robredo and now, the Chief Public Attorney, Persida Acosta, who seemed to be remorseful when she expressed to the public not to be scared of vaccination to spare children from getting measles considering its alarming rates: a step she made just after the call for her resignation by our Senators and some people. 

Our leaders have the most significant role to play in all of these circumstances affecting the state of health of Filipino children. They may have reflected on their shortcomings and are now doing their part to correct the mistakes they have caused. For the Chief Public Attorney, her sudden active campaign for vaccination may not be an admission of guilt, hence taking responsibility for her actions if her advocacy to fight for her clients led to our country's health crisis. 

Our Call to action 

May this health crisis call other media personalities and social media influencers to do the same thing and stop disinformation campaigns causing trials by publicity and untoward events? The worst is the loss of lives. We have lost the confidence of our people in our Government's immunization campaign, and it might take time for others to regain their trust.

Full immunization is essential in developing immunity against highly communicable diseases. Imagine if all children received full immunization; we would be closer to eradicating diseases like measles.

We have already eradicated diseases like polio and maternal and neonatal tetanus. Hence we can also achieve a measles-free country and eliminate other conditions through full immunization. It may be a challenging task for our healthcare workers, but with our government's active campaign and the public's cooperation, the goal can be achieved. 

As a Healthcare advocate, I want to protect my family and the public through health education to live the best life they deserve. Whoever we are, we can become health advocates, and our advocacy can create a ripple effect toward a healthy citizenry and community. 

© 2019 Del Cusay

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Celebrating Chinese New Year 2019: Luck, Prosperity and Faith

Lion and Dragon Dance 
Chinese new year has been part of the Philippine culture for centuries and is celebrated by Filipinos from all walks of life, especially of Chinese descent, we call Tsinoy or Intsik.

In Binondo, a district in Manila, a vibrant and colorful celebration happens every Chinese New year to welcome prosperity and abundance in businesses established by the Tsinoys, with a majority of the community coming from Fujian and Guangdong provinces in China.

Grand Parade at Ongpin St. in Binondo
Centuries has passed. They have endured wars and conflicts in their little community, Chinatown in Binondo, and communities established in other places in the Philippine archipelago. But today, their businesses thrive in Binondo and have conquered almost all commerce and industries, becoming business leaders.

Our Philippine culture is greatly influenced by the Tsinoys, as evidenced by the food we serve during holidays, beliefs in luck through Chinese astrology or horoscope, Chinese martial arts, Chinese feng shui, Chinese arts, and architectural designs and structures. Today, all of these influences are alive in Binondo, particularly in the famous street of Ongpin - - the center of the Chinese New year celebration in the country.

Fruits and lucky charms 
Even in politics and governance, Tsinoys have been elected to serve the country. Beyond their business interests, they have proven to be an effective public servant, becoming truly Filipino by heart. From their ancestors as Chinese immigrants to the Philippines, they now have a massive influence in Philippine politics, and Filipinos patronize their brand of leadership.

My journey in Binondo started back in 2013. Celebrating the Chinese New Year 2013: A New Beginning was a meaningful and joyful experience. That was the beginning of a Chinese-Filipino culture immersion for a greater understanding of the country's deeply-rooted Chinese culture and influence.

Five years after, Celebrating Chinese New Year 2018: Prosperity and Abundance was a celebration of success and thanksgiving for a greater year that has passed and a greater optimism for the current year. That's the essence; becoming better and bolder every year.

According to Chinese culture, this year of the Pig brings wealth and prosperity through the beliefs and symbols one must possess. This has been adopted by most Filipinos, and every year we strive to become a better version of ourselves and free ourselves from obsolete beliefs. Every new year is a renewal and a vow through the lists of resolutions. We may believe in luck, but our faith and personal devotion to a higher source also bring success and prosperity in life.

May our dreams and hopes become higher and brighter as we celebrate a new year with optimism and grace this year and beyond.

© 2019 Del Cusay

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Pasinaya 2019: Rights, Freedom and Culture

Pasinaya 2019 Opening Ceremony 

Philippine arts and culture are truly alive, and this year we celebrate our Filipino identity through the Pasinaya Festival. This is the 15th year celebration since it started in 2005.

"Pasinaya" means an inauguration or a grand opening of the many arts and cultural presentations offered by the Cultural Center of the Philippines to Filipinos and even foreigners who want to explore more about our culture.

I had just found out about this festival several years when I discovered the festival's opening ceremony in the vicinity of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 2013. We were having a Sunday workout (essential martial arts and meditation) with my colleagues at the ASEAN Garden of the CCP complex. With my curiosity about the event and interest in cultural programs, I returned in the afternoon. I was able to catch up with the shows presented by the CCP resident companies and other presentations in the CCP main ramp and alleys.

That was my first time watching the presentations of the CCP resident companies like the Madrigal Singers, Bayanihan Folk Dance Company, and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, who have given honor and prestige to the Philippines on the world stage through their world-class performances.

Pasinaya 2019 Art displays

Pasinaya 2013: Rediscovering Philippine Arts and Culture was my first ever experience of this great festival. It was very memorable, and I was grateful to have a glimpse of our diverse culture through arts, music, and dance brought to life by performers from different places in the country.

The fascination followed the year after, in 2014, when I introduced my sister to the festival, who appreciates such a cultural event. After missing the event in 2015 and 2016, I was able to experience the festival again in 2017.

Pasinaya 2017: Arts for Peace 
was even bigger and more significant when Filipinos could be united through arts despite the wars and conflicts we experienced during that time. Even today, when conflicts still happen due to terrorism and religious differences, we can be united through our appreciation of Philippine Arts and music. Various musical instruments and melodies bring harmony and camaraderie to everyone regardless of age, creed, and social status.

Last year was also memorable when I invited a friend who appreciates Philippine Arts and culture.

Pasinaya 2019 Performers from different schools

Pasinaya 2018: Love for the Philippine Arts is about giving our highest appreciation and respect to Philippine Arts and culture, which is considered the soul of our nation and our identity to the world.

I have witnessed and experienced the past 4 years of Pasinaya celebrations. It makes me proud to be a Filipino as I continue to explore the depth of our culture and national identity.

Pasinaya 2019 CCP Resident Companies

For the year 2019, I was able to watch performances from different participating schools and all the performances from the CCP resident companies: the Ballet Philippines, UST Symphony Orchestra, Philippine Ballet Theater, NAMCYA, Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group, Philippine Madrigal Singers, Bayanihan Dance Company and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra. This year's theme is Karapatan, Kalayaan at Kultura (Rights, Freedom, and Culture), and thousands of Filipino arts and culture enthusiasts are gathered to celebrate their being Filipino. This year's theme reminds us of our rights to express our thoughts and emotions about the current events affecting our nation. Just like freedom of expression, we must remain to be vocal and not be silent about the issues confronting our nation. We must be free to express our sentiments whenever we are suppressed from our rights
and freedom.

Every Filipino has a voice, and our collective voices can make a difference in nation-building and strengthen our culture. We have our own identity that even globalization couldn't break us apart, but instead unite as one nation and be truly Filipino in words, deeds, and thought.

© 2019 Del Cusay