MANILA - The Senate on Thursday ratified the Doktor Para sa Bayan Act, which will provide scholarships for Filipino students who wish to enroll in medical courses.
Under the measure, the government will shoulder all expenses to send Filipino students with good academic performance to medical schools, provided that these learners will work as doctors in the country for the same number of years they were under the scholarship program.
"The coronavirus pandemic has only exposed and exacerbated the Achilles' heel of our medical sector," Senate Committee on Higher Education chair Sen. Joel Villanueva, who sponsored the measure, said in plenary.
"Dahil sa ratipikasyon ngayon... binibigyan po natin ng mas malaking tiyansa ang susunod na henerasyon ng mga Pilipino na manalo laban sa mga sakit at ibang uri ng pandemya,"
(Because of today's ratification, we are giving the next generation of Filipinos a better chance to win against diseases and other pandemics.)
Should the bill be signed into law, it would address the country's "goal of assigning at least 1 doctor for every municipality in the country," the senator said.
Students who are under existing medical scholarship programs of the Department of Health and the Commission on Higher Education "shall automatically be eligible to avail the benefits under this measure," he said.
"The bill imposes sanctions on doctors who will refuse to comply with
the mandatory return service, including the payment equivalent to twice the full cost of the scholarship expenses," Villanueva said.
The Senate unanimously passed the bill into law after Villanueva's panel found that the Philippines still needs needs 79,589 more doctors to achieve the ideal ratio of 10 physicians for every 10,000 individuals.
Of the 84,662 licensed doctors in the Philippines, only 28,428 are working as physicians in the country, Villanueva said.
Of the 28,000 practicing doctors, nearly half or 10,197 physicians are located in Metro Manila while the rest are distributed in other parts of the country, he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III - who filed the first version of the bill in the current Congress - earlier said that many Filipino students want to become doctors but are constrained by financial limitations.
"Gustong-gusto mag-doktor ng mga bata pero hindi kaya ng mga magulang... [kaya] ang importante muna gawin nating libre," Sotto said in an earlier session.
(The students want to be doctors but their parents cannot afford it that is why it is important for us to make it free.)
"Basta Pilipino ka, gusto mong mag-doktor, gagawin ka naming doktor. Gobyerno dapat," he said.
(As long as you're Filipino and you want to be a doctor, we should find ways to help you become a doctor. The government must do that.)