Press Release
February 2, 2011


Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago threatened to exercise her one-person veto and led groups who blocked the confirmation of health secretary Enrique Ona.

Under the Rules of the Commission on Appointments, when one member invokes the dreaded Section 20, the Commission must immediately suspend consideration of a nomination, in effect constituting a "one-person veto."

Santiago said that allowing the poor to sell kidneys to foreign tourists should not be part of medical tourism, because it exploits the poor.

The senator has filed Senate Bill No. 94 to prohibit commercialization of human organs and to establish an organ donation board and a transplant ethics committee.

She has also filed Senate Bill No. 1593 to promote awareness of organ donation.

In addition, she has filed Senate Resolution No. 134 seeking a Senate probe on the rampant trafficking of human organs.

Santiago made it clear that she has no objection to a kidney transplant if it is conducted among Filipinos, and if the donor is a member of the family.

"Otherwise, we should not allow the commercialization of kidneys, because the masses do not understand what it entails. They could die for lack of aftercare, or they could lose their livelihood for lack of strength," she said.

Santiago told the press that in 2005 the World Health Organization identified the Philippines as one of the global hotspots for organ trafficking.

"We have gained a notorious reputation as a hub for illegal traffic in human organs from living donors. Some hospitals cater to wealthy foreign patients," she said, quoting the 2009 International Medical Travel Journal published in the United Kingdom.

Santiago also said that commercial organ transplants continue in the Philippines, despite a total ban against foreigners imposed by Pres. Arroyo in 2008.

"Hospitals should not seek to raise money for expansion by facilitating kidney transplants from poor Filipinos to rich foreigners," she said.

Santiago quoted a Philippine Information Agency advertisement saying that kidney transplants are available for $25,000. Prices for kidney transplants reportedly range from $19,000 to over $85,000.

"But the donor who is a poor person earns only $2,000," she said.

The author of several volumes on philosophy, Santiago, who is a lawyer, said that the sale of a kidney is unethical exploitation, because the poor do not really have free choice.

"The indigent donor only gets $2,000 and the rest of the $85,000 goes to the organ broker, transplant physician, and hospital," she said.

Santiago quoted the 2009 Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics: "This utilitarian mode of analysis negates basic ethical questions about whether organs ought to be purchased and sold through market mechanisms."

Santiago has just returned from a six-month sick leave, and was given permission by committee chair Sen. Ramon Revilla to enter a manifestation into the record for some 20 minutes so that she could rest instead of raising questions to Dr. Ona.

The senator said she was "an oppositor but not an enemy" of Ona, and assured him that she only wanted to open a public debate.

Santiago said that apart from the issue of kidney donation, she has other issues to raise with Ona, but first she wants him to confirm in writing a previous administrative order issued by former health secretary Esperanza Cabral imposing a total ban on kidney transplants to foreigners, and a ban on the sale or commercialization of kidneys.

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