By Giselle Arroyo

Cancer survivors, patient support groups, and advocates filled the Senate Plenary Hall on September 4, 2018 to witness Senator JV Ejercito, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, and Senator Sonny Angara, Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, deliver their historic sponsorship speeches for Senate Bill No. 1850: “An Act Institutionalizing a National Integrated Cancer Control Program and Appropriating Funds Therefor.”

Cancer Coalition Philippines (CCPh) convened a diverse group of cancer survivors to embody what the cancer bill seeks to address: national and integrated care for all cancers, in all ages, all genders, and all stages.

Represented were local government unit-based support groups from Marikina and Las Piñas; hospital-based support groups from Philippine General Hospital, The Medical City, and University of Perpetual Help-Las Piñas (Hearts of Hope); and other support organizations like Carewell Community Foundation and Child Haus Manila.

Also present were CCPh members Dr. Rachel Rosario and Romi Marcaida, both of Philippine Cancer Society; CCPh co-chair Dr. Ramon Severino of Philippine Society of Oncologists; CCPh co-chair Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala of ICanServe Foundation; CCPh spokesperson Paul Perez of Project: Brave Kids; and Menchie Auste of Cancer Warriors Foundation.

The landmark legislation seeks to address the various gaps in the cancer care continuum and integrated solutions for every single step: from prevention, detection, correct diagnosis, treatment and palliative care, pain management and survivorship or end of life.

In their back-to-back privilege speeches urging their colleagues to prioritize the bill, both senators shared not only the alarming statistics that reflect the gravity of the country’s growing cancer burden, but gave the disease a human face. Sen. Ejercito shared the inspiring stories of a stage 3B breast cancer survivor who was blessed with twin boys despite having lost a breast and an ovary to cancer treatments, and 15-year-old Seve Perez, who survived acute lymphoblastic leukemia and is now a cancer patient advocate.

Senator Angara paid homage to national athlete, table tennis champion, and Olympian Ian Lariba who recently passed away at the age of 23 after one year of battling acute myeloid leukemia. He recalled that even the senate witnessed the effects of cancer first hand, when one of their own, the late senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, succumbed to lung cancer.

“Cancer is a heartbreaking crisis. The facts are overwhelming. Yet cancer has been ignored — until now. After decades of countless bills filed, it is with great honor that I hereby sponsor the enactment of a legislation that is envisioned to institutionalize a holistic and integrated cancer control program for all Filipino citizens,” said Sen. Ejercito.

“Today, thru the National Integrated Cancer Control Act, we can give cancer patients a choice; we can give them hope. Hope that they will have an equitable and affordable cancer treatment and care, especially for the underprivileged and marginalized Filipinos,” he added.

In his speech, Sen. Angara stated: “Clearly we have not done enough, but I believe we can definitely do something for those who might contract this dreaded disease in the future. Through this measure we will expand the role of the state in ensuring that every Filipino is afforded the chance to get through cancer without taking away everything that he or she has worked hard for.”

“Mr. President, they say that cancer does not have a face until it is yours, or someone you know or love. I don’t think anyone in this chamber or even in this building is naive to the impact of this horrible disease. I would urge my fellow senators to let this senate be remembered as the body who pushed for comprehensive care for cancer patients and the prevention of this disease,” he concluded.

Senators Joel Villanueva and Nancy Binay added their speeches to the Senate record. At least 16 senators have guaranteed their support for the bill, which now moves on to the period of interpellations. Last week, the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations approved a substitute version of the bill, with discussions moving on to the Committee on Ways and Means.

“With cancer, a lot of families end up broken hearted, simply broken and broke. Finding the cure to that is harder than the cure to cancer. I hope and pray that the Cancer Control Bill passes soon. Every delay means death and a devastated family,” said Magsanoc-Alikpala, CCPh co-chair.

“It is heartening to see that cancer patients and survivors have found strong allies in the Senate, articulating their dreams and aspirations for better cancer patient care in the country. We hope that other legislators lend their voice sooner than later for any delay has grave impact not just on the patients but their families as well,” said Perez, CCPh spokesperson.

They thanked all the stakeholders present at the senate for their support, and reiterated their appeals for continuous vigilance and cooperation until the bill is enacted into law.

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