The distinguished UERMMMC President and Executive Director Romeo Divinagracia, the equally distinguished deans, faculty, alumni, administrators and staff of UERMMMC, the hardworking and ever-supportive parents, esteemed graduates and their loved ones, ladies and gentlemen gathered to witness a milestone in the lives of these graduates and their families as well, magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat.
My heartfelt congratulations to the graduating classes in physical therapy, nursing, medicine and diabetology. On this momentous occasion, there is no doubt that the outside world will be welcoming you with open arms. I speak not only of the world immediately beyond the PICC Plenary Hall but beyond the confines of that geographic map we consciously call the Philippines, which is now known the world over for its caring and sharing people. I also speak of the outside world’s welcoming embrace for your services in the great healing tradition of your selected professions driven by the Hippocratic Oath, the vision of Florence Nightingale and core values as spelled out in codes of professionalism such as in physical therapy and diabetology education, practice and research.
Doing Good and Doing Well
at the Same Time
On your side, many of us see the obverse of that welcome embrace; the reality seems to be that global arms are far more attractive and tighter than that of the Philippines. You all want good jobs and employment positions, the material means to fulfill dreams of service to humanity, but you also know graduation is the beginning of your pay-off time, to recoup the investments on your education. While you faced the great demand for health care in our own country in your own internships and everyday life, the push and pull of employment abroad is a reality no one can dismiss. Hence I come here before you today with the message that you can be doing good for the rest of us while you are doing well for yourselves at the same time. Doing good and doing well. At the same time.
This will definitely call for great national soul-searching as we force our leaders in both the public and private sectors to give us the vision of the Philippines in a globalized new millennium. A government official offers a solution to only one aspect of the problem of what you and I know as the brain drain—he calls it the management of the mobility of our health care workers. Yet the larger problem is our lack of vision of who we are in this globalized age. Do we want to be known as a nation of caring service providers just as China is seen as a manufacturing powerhouse (that makes possible the Divisoria 168 phenomenon) and Thailand as the kitchen capital of the world with its highly productive agricultural base? Can we be caring service givers to the world and to our own people at the same time? Then let us work together in shaping policies that will realize this mission.
All of us who listen to or watch the sickening six o’clock news know there are endless opportunities for doing good in this valley of tears, despite the fact that in comparative global surveys Filipinos remain among the happiest people on Earth. But can you really do well in the environment you now find yourselves ?
Ten years ago, when some of you were still in high school, many of us were hopeful that you could do good and do well without leaving this country as we were poised for an economic take-off that landed us on the front cover of major international magazines. But nationwide statistics indicate 68% of our doctors are now abroad, and an even larger 88% of our nurses have left the country. Note that a third of all our registered professionals are in the field of health; this is truly a massive brain flow management task!
The Department of Health projects that between 2006 and 2010, some 180,000 nurses alone will be deployed abroad, five times that of the 2002-2005 base of 36,540 constituting 83% of the total health professionals who found gainful employment abroad in that period. The rest include 434 medical doctors, 1,782 physiotherapists and occupational therapists, 1,675 medical technologists, 1,283 life science/medical technologists, 1,071 midwives, 453 nutritionist-dietitians and dietitians, and 849 dentists, pharmacists and optometrists.
Cover stories of international magazines in 1996 trumpeted the Philippines as the young tiger economy of Asia when then President Fidel V. Ramos hosted a summit of 18 world economic leaders of the region called APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) right in this very PICC complex. (My chairing of the 1996 APEC Senior Officials Meetings that led to the Ministerial Meeting and the much acclaimed Economic Leaders’ Meeting is the highlight of my diplomatic life, and I count it as the service reward for my having returned to this country after more than 15 years in self-exile.) The APEC leaders then included President Bill Clinton of the USA, China’s Premier Jiang Zemin, Japanese Prime Minister Ryuntaro Hashimoto, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mohammed Mahathir, Brunei Darussalam’s Sultan Bolkiah, Indonesia’s President Suharto and Singapore’s Prime Minister Go Chok Tong. But after the APEC Summit in Subic in 1996, the Philippines was more politically destined not to be the tiger cub but the “crouching tiger, hidden dragon” economy of a robust Asia—a movie in the making, a movie in the minds of scriptwriters—and hence a country not quite ready to absorb all of its graduates in your chosen professions, precisely because we created a conscious excess supply of some professionals for us to deliberately send them abroad. By then we have found out that we could be a legitimate world competitor in producing service providers not only in health but also in engineering, accountancy and finance, information technology, ship manning, animation, digital media, architecture, the performing arts including music, and other creative services including design.
Failing to Get a National Vision
in the Global Age
But even before 1996, our leaders in both the public and private sectors seemed not able to cope with external forces. Early in the 1960s the pull of migration policies attracted many of our doctors, nurses, and occupational and physical therapists to permanently reside in the United States. In the 1970s the martial law conditions produced heroes in the boondocks for the country, and the global energy crisis brought about by OPEC generated heroes with green bucks for many families as the quadrupling of oil prices led us to trade human resources for Middle East oil. In 1983 to ’85, the deepest economic recession witnessed by this country in the entire 20th century led not only to the end of dictatorial martial rule but the exodus of many professionals as well. The February 1986 People Power-led recovery of Philippine dignity unfortunately occurred at a period when forces of globalization made the movement of professionals even more attractive, as the rich industrial economies saw aging populations that needed younger educated people from poor developing countries to serve their health care needs. By the late 1990s, the Asian financial crisis could not contribute to the reversal of our brain drain, despite many attempts like the revival of the Balik-Scientist Program, and my own efforts at the Department of Foreign Affairs to revitalize a temporary return of our top level professionals through a United Nations project called TOKTEN (Transfer of Know-how Through Expatriate Nationals). Today, in the first years of the new millennium, the global forces are even sharper and our leaders are talking of negotiating what we call the General Agreement on Trade in Services, which will allow more professionals like you, the graduates of this year, to move in and out of countries more liberally. That includes doctors, nurses, physical therapists, diabetologists—to and from countries which our leaders will choose to negotiate with.
Indeed, many of our leaders squandered opportunities for our own talents to reap their rewards in the soil of their birth. Some leaders in fact took pride in driving away nearly all of the best and the brightest abroad, the better to solve our need for dollars, yen, pounds and other currencies to fund our purchases of machinery and equipment, raw materials and inputs, especially oil, for our own factories, agri-businesses and offices; the better to fund the education and health care needs of our own children in barrios and cities; the better to ease the employment competition in so few establishments yet wanting in such great numbers. Not a few of our Health Secretaries have lamented the need for the general economy to improve first before the exodus of our health professionals could be abated.
But if it is the fate of the Philippines to be the training ground for health professionals destined to serve the rest of the world rather than our very own, could we not have a win-win situation where we can serve both our own people and those of other lands as well in this global age?