Speech by President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr. at the 15th Philippine National Health Research System Week Celebration

Event 15th Philippine National Health Research System Week
Location Grand Ballroom, Marriott Hotel in Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga

Thank you very much to our Special Assistant Secretary Anton Lagdameo for his very concise introduction. Please sit down.

The Department of Health Officer-in-Charge Dra. Maria Rosario Vergeire; the CHED Chairperson and long acquaintance of mine, we have been working together for very, very many years on all of these education issues that we had been facing. And I am happy now that all of our discussions perhaps we can now actually put into place. Chairperson Popoy De Vera; Mabalacat City Mayor Cris Garbo; University of the Philippines Manila Chancellor Carmencita Padilla; the officials and staff of the Philippine National Health Research System; all the other distinguished guests; fellow workers in government;

ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

As is my way when I am in the company of all the workers that have been working for the betterment of our health situation in the midst of the pandemic, I always start with a note of gratitude and of thanks for your sacrifice and for the risks that you take, and all that you have been able to do to help us through this pandemic.

It is nothing less than having you have helped to keep millions of people alive. There is nothing more heroic in my mind than what you have achieved. [applause] So thank you.

Thank you not only from me as a sufferer of COVID, but for all the millions who somehow have reaped the benefit of your hard work. As you remember, I was a very early sufferer. I came home from Europe in the second week of March of 2020, I already had COVID.

But as you remember in that period of time, we were bereft of any science. I remember it was the first time in my life that I had experienced the thought that because we have become used to the medical care that we are always receiving, and whatever happens, the doctor will tell you, “Okay, we know what it is. We will tell you this is what you will do. And in a certain amount of time, you will be better.” And all through our lives that is exactly what happened.

When we feel bad, we break our leg, we get a wound, we go to the doctor and he says, “It’s okay, we know what’s happening here and we will take care of you. This is what we will do. You will get better.” And sure we do get better.

For the first time in our experience, I asked the doctor and I said, “What’s happening?” And then he said, “I don’t know.” “What are you going to do to cure me?” “We don’t know.” That is the situation that we were in.

There was a total lack of information, of knowledge about this new pandemic. And that is why the work that you did that developed the genome sequencing so that we could follow and identify and detect the different strains as they came about, the test kits that you were able to develop for the local community, the modeling that was done. This was all a fruit of your partnership and it is something that has never been seen before.

So maybe you cannot be considered, you cannot say “we are not frontliners.” You were not in the hospitals, you were not — you were still at the forefront because what information, what data, what research you put together was what was used in the frontlines. And in that way, it was your [inaudible]… [applause]

I am very happy to be celebrating the 15th National Health Research System Week. And of course we cannot celebrate that without a mention of President GMA because through her Proclamation 1309, she declared the second week of August as the PNHRS Week. [applause]

I commend the Department of Science and Technology, Philippine Council for Health Research and Development for organizing this event along with the PNHRS. I also acknowledge the Central Luzon Health Research and Development Consortium for hosting our celebration for this week. [applause]

Your organization’s coordination and leadership in this important field of study will help ensure that we can utilize the maximum economic and social benefits that stem from the rapid developments in science and medicine.

The unparalleled commitment of our health researchers to pressing our nation forward for a healthier and safer future is certainly worth our recognition. A key element of this, the work that you do, is the cooperation that you — the different agencies that have come together and have removed all the barriers in terms of course of scientific research, of exchange of information, of help in facilities, help in using all of the laboratories so that we are able to maximize our efforts.

This has been the key — the key to the successes that you have enjoyed and the successes you will enjoy. This has not only happened here in the Philippines. It happened also around the world where as we saw for the first time I think in the history of different countries, we could see that the research institutes were not very jealous of their information, and it was shared at an unprecedented rate.

And that is something that we have also learned to enjoy because of your coordination and your working together and your close working relationship has really brought about that synergy that we are looking for in terms of the knowledge that we are gaining and the ways that we are developing to mitigate the various problems that have come up during the pandemic, that we know will come up unfortunately in the future.

But then, I think we are better prepared because we have formed and we have had experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. And that I think still remains to be the key when it comes, as I said, to the work that you do, I think that will be the key element to our success.

Through this occasion, various regional and national experts and researchers come together. You lead us in exploring and discovering areas that invite utmost attention.

Keeping a keen eye on these different issues will undoubtedly encourage discussion and exchange of ideas and this is what I am talking about. Open and continuous discussion and exchange of ideas, especially as we allow the essence of this solidarity for the Philippines to bind our efforts amidst all these difficulties.

At this juncture, I wish to highlight the importance of intellectual humility which you have all demonstrated because this is what you need to pursue your noble endeavors.

You hone your competencies and gain new insights from your fellow practitioners and remain open to new knowledge and ideas.

We have no choice because we cannot judge — we cannot measure this pandemic by any other human experience. And that is why we have to be very open and understand and say “no it is not something we already know, it is something that we very much do not know.”

And that is the openness that I speak about, especially whenever groundbreaking data or new findings debunk our usual beliefs. This has happened. How many times did it happen during the pandemic where everything changed, everything changed?

This is the way of science and this is what you provide. This dearth of science that we suffered for almost a year, until we slowly began to understand what this disease was, how do we treat it, how do we take care of our people, how many patients can we actually treat, what do we do to protect our frontliners, what is the new knowledge, is this a new virus, is this a new variant.

All of these things just — have kept coming at us. It has gotten to the point where I always — I’m hesitant to say we are at the tail end of the pandemic. Every time I say that, there’s a new surge. [laughter]

I said that already. The first meeting that Usec. Vergeire and I had, I said: “Parang patapos na. Mukhang tail end na tayo dito sa pandemya.” And here we come again with a new variant of coronavirus that we — of Omicron that now we have to deal with, that you have to genome sequence again, that we have to find a booster so that the people are fully immunized and that is…

But that is the way of scientists is that we continue, a continue… And I suppose it is different when we talk about hard science and primary research, like what you are doing now, because we are still at primary research when it comes to the pandemic.

So we must really be very wary of getting fixed and say this is what it is. Because we know, it evolves, it mutates. And after a couple of months, it is not what it is any longer.

And that’s why the openness of mind, the continuing flow of information between all of the different agencies has become crucial, has become critical, and has been again, to say it again, the key to what successes that you have enjoyed.

The health crisis we have confronted has exposed how vulnerable we are as a people and this pushed us to devise the efficient responses and the mechanisms given what resources that we had. That is why I believe we continue to remain open to these new ideas and commit to work together.

We can resolve these issues by employing cross-sectoral responsive evidence-based systems. Now, there’s a very important idea. You are all scientists. Evidence-based system. There is no such thing as a failed experiment because every experiment you learn something.

This is something that we have to keep in our heads that these evidence-based systems are all that we rely on. Not just some… Well, you’re all familiar with all the crazy — the crazy stuff that came out on the Internet during 2020 and 2021.

And it was — one of the greatest jobs of government was to try and counteract that by providing actual good information and guidance for what people should be able to do, so that they can mitigate the effects. If they have gotten sick, mitigate the effects, get better quicker, and avoiding and preventing the acquiring of the disease in the first place.

So as long as we keep our minds attuned to the goals that we share and to the dreams that we want to achieve as a nation, we will not only emerge triumphant but also open new opportunities and areas for growth in the future.

Risk communication is likewise crucial in the time of pandemic and in the time of all disasters. What are practical approaches to preventing and mitigating harm? How can we prepare the Filipino people and disseminate information to vulnerable sectors much more effectively than we have been able to do so far?

We can answer these questions if we delve deeper into responding to challenge towards our recovery and our resiliency.

I trust that you will learn from each other’s shared experiences, best practices, and discoveries in coping with the pandemic and other natural calamities and disasters.

I am certain that you will do all of these and more. I am certain because you already have and I am certain you will continue to do it.

And as we undertake the necessary measures to help our people and our society to move forward into what we now refer to as the new normal.

As your President, I hope that my presence here today gives a clear signal that this administration continues to support your endeavors so that together we can create an enabling environment for the Filipino research community that fosters collaboration and cooperation that will yield solutions, that will make lives better for our fellow men and women.

And to this end, as I’m sure you know, I have presented to the Congress, both Houses of Congress, the proposed creation — the creation of the Virology Center of the Philippines and so that we can… [applause]

So that we can consolidate in a better way all of the disparate research, all the different sources of knowledge, all the different sources of research and new data. We can put it together and be more coordinated as opposed to what we had to work with during the pandemic.

And secondly, of course, is the creation of our own Disease Control Center here in the Philippines so that — [applause] — so that we are ready for the unfortunate warnings that we are always getting that this is not going to be the last pandemic, at least not in our lifetimes.

So these are the efforts. We have been in consultation with the House of Representatives and the Senate to bring this — to create these agencies so that we can bring them to bear in what we are up to now continuing to have to fight.

It is — we will continue to work so that our people are safer, so that our citizens have better access to healthcare and so that our — the quality of our healthcare will improve.

Thank you all very much. I wish you a meaningful and productive week. Mabuhay kayong lahat. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas. Marami pong salamat sa inyong lahat. [applause]

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