Press Release
August 12, 2016

Ideas Positive National Youth Forum on Public Health
Bayanihan Center, Mandaluyong City
 August 12, 2016

Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat.

Sa akon mga kasimanwa diri, maayong aga sa inyo tanan.

Happy International Youth Day! It is energizing to speak before young people today, especially those brimming with enthusiasm and, yes, new ideas. Now on its sixth run, the Unilab Foundation has gathered some of the best and brightest of young people in the country for one goal: to get ideas to change the world.

I have 4 young people of my own: Kiko, Issa, Ianna and Sinta. Kung alam ninyo ang quote na "Success is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration", that's also true for parenting. Isang solo-mother katulad ko, kasama ang apat na independent and opinionated na mga anak, challenging pero at the same time inspiring.

The point is that the idealism and energy of the youth are there. Kaming mga tito at tita, especially ang mga nasa gobyerno, we need to learn how to harness these and use them for nation-building.

We cannot do that if we do not partner with you. We can't do that if we, as an older generation, tell young people like you, "Iho, iha, huwag kang masyadong paki-alamero. Mag-aral ka muna". We can't do that if, at the end of the day, we see you as mere beneficiaries and not as equal stakeholders.

"We cannot solve the problems of today by the same mindset that created them". Albert Einstein. I think that's the spirit of this youth forum: to dispel old notions of how we do things and get young people to take the reins.

So today, I come here not just to present my legislative agenda as the new Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health but also to ask for your support. Ang polisiya namin sa Patidong Akbayan, ang lahat ng mga panukalang batas na aming ipapasa ay dapat ka-akibat ang mga stakeholders at mga sektor. Naniniwala akong ang Senado ay dapat nakikinig sa boses ng mga ordinaryong mamamayan at ang mga batas na aming ipapasa.

Sa larangan ng kalusugan, marami tayong pwedeng pagtulungan. I want to advocate in the Senate heavy investment in young people's welfare, especially on young people's health. A survey by the United Nations Population Fund reports that health is in the top 3 agenda of young people and that healthcare services are among your priority expectations from duty-bearers.

Sustainable Development Goal #3: Good health and well-being. Ideas Positive seeks to cull out new ways to achieve these goals from young people like you. But let me share three points today:

Universal healthcare must first and foremost be always public. What do I mean by this? Heathcare is a gut-level issue and its primary duty-bearer is the government. Kasama ang pagkain, tirahan at edukasyon, ang kalusugan ang isa sa pinaka-unang serbisyo na inaasahan natin sa gobyerno.

Healthcare deepens our democracy. In a country where the gap between the rich and the poor is still wide, the level of healthcare service between private and public must be narrowed. Currently, 6 out of 10 Filipinos die without ever having seen a doctor, and this situation is borne out of poverty and geography.

Healthcare must be our equalizer. We need to expand healthcare infrastructure to the barangay and of course, to the schools. We also need to make healthcare less intimidating by ensuring that all Filipinos, young and old, rich and poor, are covered.

Which leads me to my second point: investment in young people's health is an investment in the country's future. No brainer, 'di ba? Comprising majority of the work force and our future work force, young people have a high stake in making healthcare accessible to all. Hindi dapat namumulubi sa pagpapagamot. Hindi lang dapat ang may-kaya ang nakakapag-pa-ospital.

But young people are faced with a plethora of challenges:

Smokers are getting younger. More than 1 in every 8 Filipino youth aged 13-15 years old are smoking[1]. The Sin Tax Law and the Graphic Health Warning Law must be strengthened: to ensure that there are no new smokers in this generation. Let smoking as one of the leading causes of death among Filipinos become a thing of the past, a #ThrowbackThursday kumbaga.

Young people are also currently at the losing end of the HIV-AIDS epidemic. In the Philippines, newly diagnosed HIV cases increased by 230% from 2011 to 2015, mostly among young people, according to the DOH. In Metro Manila, there have been 303 new cases just last May this year.

What is also troubling is that in a survey done by the Department, 3 out of 5 young Filipinos think that they are immune to HIV. To set the record straight, wala pa pong available immunization laban sa HIV.

One in ten girls in the country, aged 15-19 years old, is already a mother or experiencing pregnancy. This contributes greatly to the large number of out-of-school young women. Hindi lang tayo sa Rio Olympics silver medalist. In Southeast Asia, we are a gold-medalist in having the highest rate of teen pregnancy. These statistics point to the need to fully implement the comprehensive sexuality education component of the reproductive health law.

Another concern of young Filipinos that we do not even dare talk about: you and I have a mental health problem. Young people are undergoing a lot of stress and pressure: anong kurso ang kukunin ko, saan ako pupunta pagkatapos grumadweyt, bakit hindi ako crush ng crush ko. Mental stress takes a toll on everyone, especially young people. It leads to depression, can be a cause of drug dependence and even suicide in some cases.

The National Youth Commission's survey reported that more than 2 in every 10 young people thought that "life is not worth living" and more than 1 out of 10 young people have considered taking their own lives and actually took steps to push through with it.

Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental illness stifles real discussion. Policy- and lawmakers need to have a serious discussion and set of responses towards mental healthcare in the Philippines. We need to modernize our mental healthcare facilities and enable more experts and physicians to practice diagnosis and treatment that are accessible to all.

My office will soon be championing a Mental Health Law, together with stakeholders. I'd like to emphasize that you are one of those stakeholders.

So for my third and last point: faced with these challenges, the role of young people and your ideas is to inspire the government. We have a lot to learn from you, believe me. In producing solutions that work, Ideas Positive is leading in that aspect: from tahong shells as exhaust filters to ceramic jars as water filters. From these ideas, we know one thing: Hindi na lang sa Instagram ang filter.

But sustainability is the name of the game: empowering the communities we work with and at the same time getting your projects institutionalized with regular funding from the government as a sustainable solution. Your projects have to be replicable. It has to have the ambition to be done on a massive scale. In this ambition, consider me your ally as well.

Kids, guys and girls, we have to work together. My office is open to your ideas:

In a world full of PokemonGO, let me be your Pokemon-stay.

In the words of millennials today, "G tayo, mga bes".

Congratulations and mabuhay to all of you who are here today. You have worked hard and inspired many, including yours truly. Let me end by saying this, an advice I also give my four millennials at home:

Follow your bliss. Let your bliss be your service. Make your ideas change the world.

Maraming salamat po, damo guid nga salamat sa inyong tanan, mabuhay po kayong lahat.


[1] Global Youth Tobacco Survey, 2005-14 Report of the World Health Organization.

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