Duterte’s Vision for Public Health
The election of maverick former mayor of Davao, Rodrigo Duterte to the Filipino presidency in May 2016 represented a dramatic departure from politics as usual and raised interesting questions about future health policy in south East Asia’s second most populous country.
As a candidate for president, Duterte, commonly known as “the punisher” for his hardline, uncompromising and draconian approach, raised eyebrows for floating the idea of implementing a “three-child family planning policy” and for vowing to "commit a substantial proportion of the revenues of the Philippine Amusement and Gambling Corporation into a trust fund” to be used for payment of public hospital bills up and down the country. “I only want to see three children for every family… I’m a Christian, but I’m also a realist so we have to do something to combat our overpopulation and I am more than ready to defy the might of the Church, if that’s what it takes,” he solemnly declared on the campaign trail. Another pledge has him promising to “force all private hospitals to set aside 20 to 30 beds for the poor, with their expenses paid for by the government.”
Since Duterte’s inauguration in June, public health has certainly figured high up on the new administration’s agenda. In his State of the Nation Address, Duterte himself was keen to stress that his government would be “sensitive to the State’s obligations to promote, protect, fulfill the rights of our citizens, especially the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable” and that he would be steadfastly pursuing “a human approach to development that would leave no citizen behind in terms of health and education.” This was followed up by a flurry of controversial executive orders – among them one mandating universal access to contraception and another rolling out one of the toughest anti-tobacco laws in the region with a view to dis-incentivizing a habit that the Ministry of Health claims costs the state some $4 billion in healthcare and productivity losses every year.