Earlier this week, the Commission on Appointments rejected Dr. Paulyn Ubial’s appointment as Secretary of Health. This decision comes after nearly a year and a half of heading the Department of Health. It is unclear at this point who will be tapped to succeed her.
Those of us working in the field of health are dismayed at this latest display of politics and power play– an extremely accomplished woman with a nearly 30-year career in health was, again, deemed not good enough.
Doc Pau built a career serving the Filipino people and rose in the ranks of the Department of Health. Unlike previous appointees, Doc Pau is not only a medical doctor, but also has decades of experience in public health, specifically maternal, neonatal and child health programs. She has been instrumental in the DOH’s smoking cessation programs. She is a strong supporter of improved mental health services, and earlier this year allotted over a billion pesos towards mental health programs. She has been a staunch supporter of the full implementation of the Reproductive Health Law. She seemed like the ideal candidate for the position. Her rejection is a crushing blow to the health of all Filipinos.
It appears that the biggest hurdle to her confirmation has to do with her management of the Philhealth program and complications during her tenure. Doc Pau responded to the Commission’s allegations with clear explanations of the issues they raised. In addition to defending herself among the members of the commission, she was forced to contend with a series of other characters.
Lawmaker Harry Roque alleged other issues of misconduct, including her travel abroad, insinuating that she was abusing government funds. In response, Doc Pau challenged him to file cases against her; to date, no cases have been filed. Senator Manny Pacquiao took issue with Doc Pau not based on her role as Health Secretary, but because he is angry that Doc Pau’s son criticized him on social media. Senator Pacquiao told Doc Pau that he believed cabinet members’ relatives should not be critical of others in the government; it seems he forgot that we live in a democracy…again. During one of her hearings, Senator Tito Sotto was very vocal in his displeasure at the DOH’s proposed campaign to provide young people with condoms through schools in the effort to fight HIV. Never mind that the proposed campaign was ultimately abandoned anyway. Never mind that there are no other meaningful interventions to connect young people with potentially lifesaving health services. Tito Sotto remains vigilant in his fight against improved reproductive health, and there’s no doubt Doc Pau’s efforts to curb HIV led to his eventual rejection of her.
How will things in this country improve when qualified leaders working towards positive change keep getting blocked? (Hello, Gina Lopez and Judy Taguiwalo!). It is hard to imagine how we can move forward as a country when our elected officials keep moving us back.
Thank you so much for your service, Doc Pau. And I’m sorry and disappointed that the Commission on Appointments failed to see what a great leader you have been. Padayon, Doc Pau!