Equitable, accessible and affordable cancer care are one step closer to becoming a reality for Filipino cancer patients thanks to the signing of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 11215 or the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) in Quezon City on August 9, 2019. The ceremonial signing by Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III was witnessed by various stakeholders including two of the law’s principal authors and legislative champions, former Senator JV Ejercito and former Congresswoman Chiqui Roa-Puno.

“The NICCA endeavors to prevent and control cancer and improve cancer survivorship by scaling up essential programs and increasing investments for all our efforts across the entire cancer care continuum,” said Duque during the signing ceremony. ““Ultimately, the Filipinos will be among the healthiest people in Southeast Asia by 2022 and in Asia by 2040,” he added.

The signing of the IRR marks the culmination of nearly four months of sessions and nationwide consultations by the multisectoral, multidisciplinary Technical Working Group (TWG) to ensure that the law is responsive and improves survivorship and the lives of cancer patients of all ages and stages. The TWG was composed of representatives from all DOH divisions and bureaus, PhilHealth, FDA, medical societies, and cancer patient group leaders represented by Cancer Coalition Philippines (CCPh), the prime civil society mover behind the passage of NICCA.

Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, ICANSERVE Founding President, CCPh Vice President of Internal Affairs, TWG Member, and herself a cancer survivor of over 20 years, credits Yoshiyuki Majima, who was instrumental in the creation of the Cancer Control Act of Japan, for inspiring her to dream of a cancer law for the Philippines.

“The IRR, like the law, is the work of the entire cancer community. This version passed into law is for all cancers, all stages, all ages. It is integrative, nationwide in scope, and patient and family centric. It may not be perfect but it’s worth upholding. The price of its success and sustainability is eternal vigilance from the public. All of us are accountable for its full implementation,” she said.

Paul Perez, CCPh President, Project: Brave Kids Founder, TWG Member, and the father of childhood cancer survivor Seve Perez, called the passage of the bill and the signing of the IRR an answered prayer for Filipino cancer patients and their families. “The real work now begins. We continue to pray for the swift and proper implementation of the law, because the opportunity is now here to make real changes in the fight versus cancer,” he said.

In a statement lauding the signing of the IRR, CCPh called for support and vigilance, saying: “The Coalition looks forward to all stakeholders supporting the Act, most especially Congress, to ensure adequate funding; the DOH for proper and timely implementation of all its provisions; PhilHealth, NCDA, DOLE, DSWD, DepEd, and CHED to accelerate initiation of supportive policies and programs; LGUs to lead local implementation; the private sector for more collaboration and innovation; and for patient groups to stay vigilant to ensure the spirit of the law — that no cancer patient be left behind – becomes a reality.”

NICCA was signed into law on February 14, 2019. With more than 140,000 new cancer cases and more than 80,000 cancer deaths expected in the Philippines every year, Filipinos cannot afford any more delays in the full implementation of this urgent, lifesaving legislation. –Giselle Arroyo

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