Reps push for creation of independent Health Promotion Commission

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The Technical Working Group of the Committee of Health of the House of Representatives agreed last Tuesday, February 22, that there should be a Health Promotion Commission independent from the Department of Health. The recommendation was arrived at during the meeting to discuss House bill nos. 918 and 3657, the bills on health promotion authored by Hon. Harry Roque and Hon. Angelina Tan, respectively. The legislators sought inputs from resource persons in refining the said bills with a view to consolidating the two into one draft bill.

“These measures are important so that we will not be saddled by end results of diseases. [This is] coming from the idea that it is better to prevent than ultimately bear the high cost of the diseases,” Roque stated.

In attendance were representatives from the Department of Health, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, Food and Nutrition Research Institute, Philippine Sports Commission, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Finance, Philippine Commission on Women, Civil Service Commission, Metro Manila Development Authority, Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippine Information Agency, Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations, and non-profit organization HealthJustice Philippines.

Tan pointed out that the Health Department already handles so many programs. “I have talked with Sec. Ubial and [we both agree] that this health promotion body should be independent from the Department of Health,” Tan said.

After the meeting presided over by Rep. Velasco-Catera, it was agreed upon that the consolidated bill will seek to create a Health Promotion Commission separate from the bureaucratic body of the Health Department. It will have its own commissioners, an advisory committee composed of experts, and permanent staff in charge of administrative functions. A Health Promotion Fund will be established, the initial amount of which shall be drawn from revenues derived from excise taxes at a proportion that remains to be determined.

In the Senate hearing on Senator Risa Hontiveros’ bill creating a Health Promotion Institute last February 15, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial insisted that it has to be an entity independent from the Department of Health.

“Particularly looking at the form or structure, we want a body that will be outside the DOH but still connected in terms of the health programs that the DOH is implementing […], and we hope the main driving force for any body or institution will be the sustainability of its funding source, that it can have sustainable source of funds to actually do policy standards, development and research, and data management and collection,” Ubial said.

HealthJustice, the sole civil society representative in the meeting, aired that it supports the creation of independent health promotion commission. In a previously released statement, Atty. Irene Reyes of HealthJustice asserted that the health promotion body must focus on health promotion alone.

“The DOH is already investing its energy in providing care for the ill population. Let us not forget about the preventive aspect of health. We must have a health promotion body that is distinct from, albeit working in close coordination with, the Department of Health. Its mandate should be to advance health promotion, and its resources should be geared towards achieving just that,” Reyes said.

Former Health Secretary Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan, Member of the Board of Trustees of HealthJustice, recommended during the hearing the adoption of the definition of Health Promotion in the Ottawa Charter, to which the Philippines is a signatory.

Galvez-Tan, emphasizing that the health promotion entity should be independent from the health department, pointed out that the former’s mandate is distinct and different from that of the latter. “Health promotion has been reduced to a service, thereby resulting into the removal of important services such as dental health and mental health. The health promotion body is envisioned to address these gaps, considering that the Department of Health is continuously evolving into a central agency,” said Galvez-Tan.

Health Promotion, as defined by the Ottawa Charter to which the Philippines is a party, is the “process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health […] not just the responsibility of the health sector, but goes beyond health lifestyles to well-being.” The country, which is reeling from the six out of ten deaths caused by non-communicable diseases, is looking at health promotion for relief from preventable illnesses.