Advocates push for comprehensive PH mental health law

Fritzie Rodriguez
Advocates push for comprehensive PH mental health law
The Philippines is home to over 100 million Filipinos, yet there are only 690 psychiatrists and around 1,000 nurses working in psychiatric care

MANILA, Philippines – The country’s psychiatrists on Thursday, October 29, pushed for a comprehensive mental health law in the Philippines, one of the  remaining countries in the world without such legislation.

At the Mental Health Act Now forum on Thursday, the Philippine Psychiatric Association (PPA) said that unlike some of its ASEAN neighbors, the Philippines has been stalling support for those with mental health needs. 

Bills have been proposed as early as the 1980s. Although the Philipines has a Mental Health Policy signed by then Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit, it has no national law focusing on mental health.

ASEAN countries with mental health legislations Year legislation was passed
Source: National Center for Mental Health
Myanmar 1912
Brunei 1929
Malaysia 2001
Singapore 2008
Indonesia 2014

No teeth, no law

Advocates are hopeful that the law will be passed during the 17th Congress, though they admit it will be a long process.

They are worried that some legislators might push for a watered down version of the bill out of fear of controversy. The PPA urged Filipinos to write and prod legislators into supporting the bill.

“The bill should not just be motherhood statements, it should have teeth,” June Lopez of the University of the Philippines said at the forum.

Camarines Sur Third District Representative Leni Robredo and Senator Pia Cayetano filed the latest versions of the Mental Health Act in 2015 in the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively.

“Leni gave us two hours to discuss this bill – something you won’t see with others; they just sign,” Lopez said.

The 22nd version of the bill defines the obligations of the government and the health sector in protecting and promoting the rights of the mentally ill. The MH Act also aims to ensure that all Filipinos are mentally healthy.

In the absence of a national mental health law, some local governments are implementing their own ordinances. One of them is Quezon City, which passed its ordinance on October 29, the second in the Philippines, after Bacolod.

This means Quezon City will be funding mental health programs as part of its primary healthcare system, according to Regina de Jesus, executive director of the Philippine Mental Health Association.

Too few, too many

The Philippines is home to over 100 million Filipinos, yet there are only 690 psychiatrists and around 1,000 nurses working in psychiatric care. 

The Philippines’ budget for mental health also remains small. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2007 that the country “spends about 5% of the total health budget on mental health and substantial portions of it are spent on the operation and maintenance of mental hospitals.”

WHO also found that only a small percentage of mental health workers received training related to human rights. 

There are no definite figures on the number of Filipinos with mental health problems, especially since stigma and discrimination are forcing some to stay silent. As a result, many do not seek help, while others refuse to provide help.

The country only has two mental hospitals, and most mental health facilities are concentrated in the National Capital Region and other major urban cities. Some provinces, the PPA stressed, do not even have any psychiatrists. 

During Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), Lopez recalled, there were two men with mental illness who were chained, caged, and left in the rain as their relatives fled.

“They spent years in kulungan ng baboy (pig pen) only because there was no help available,” Lopez shared during the forum. “Even the barangay (village) officials felt there was a need to put these two men behind a cage for the safety of the community.”

There is a need to educate healthcare workers and government officials too when it comes to mental health, advocates said. After all, health is a right, not an entitlement.

“We are very medieval not only in our prisons but also our health facilities for the mentally ill,” Lopez argued.

She also stressed the need for a rights-based approach to mental health. 

“Respect rights of patients even as we try to attend to his needs. No excuse for violating his rights even if we think it’s for his own good,” Lopez said.

A human rights-based law dissolves unjust power relations, inequality, and discriminatory practices.

To support the Mental Health Act and be part of the #MHActNow, you may send your inputs and inquiries to the Philippine Psychiatric Association at  

Bran image  via Shutterstock 

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