"We have overcome fear of the unknown with knowledge" – UP Manila Chan. Padilla on the Stop COVID Deaths Webinars

Chancellor Carmencita D. Padilla


May 31, 2022 — Bringing together four leaders representing different perspectives, the STOP COVID DEATHS Webinar #96 Second Anniversary Special featured the lessons learned from COVID-19 and Universal Health Care (UHC) as it applied to the pandemic. They laid their personal insights as they led the health sector system at a very turbulent history in the Philippines.

Dr. Gerardo D. Legaspi, Director, Philippine General Hospital (PGH), spoke of the courage and bravery of the people involved. When the PGH, at the height of the pandemic, became a COVID-19 referral center, he recalled how this very unpopular decision and their overall experience taught him that their best asset is their people.

“We have weathered the challenges. We have protected ourselves well. We have adopted coming to work in whatever way we can,” said Dr. Legaspi. The efficiency, effectiveness, and the long-lasting state of their operations enduring in the last two years were evident. In bearing the responsibility of keeping their people alive in a very unknown situation, they delivered their COVID-19 response as firmly as they could despite not having had any books  to base things on or experts to consult with the novelty of the COVID-19 at the onset. 

He remembered how conditions were rarely perfect that they needed to adjust quickly, reading the signs and indicators on a moment-to-moment time frame.

Eventually, they stopped issuing memos and formed the Information and Education Committee that Dr. A’Erickson B. Berberabe, Chief of the Division of Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgery, headed.



Dr. Teodoro J. Herbosa, Senior Adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19, shared that they started the STOP COVID DEATHS Webinar Series as a better way to inform the public and the healthcare workers about COVID-19 and specifically how to stop COVID deaths. The endeavor, he recounts, truly was “a UP System contribution to the nation.” 

As  UP Executive Vice President then, he saw the opportunity to pool resources from the different UP autonomous units to address risk communication in a time of a novel illness. In behalf of the UP Office of the President, they put together the STOP COVID DEATHS Team composed of TVUP, the Office of the Vice President for Public Affairs, the National  Institutes of Health National Telehealth Center at UP Manila, PGH, and the UP College of Medicine that provided the health experts in the webinars. 

Other partners are the Philippine Genome Center and UP Resilience Institute which provided the expertise in the other fields of risk communication and sciences. 

“The key is, we now have a playbook, PDITR (Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate), and we now know the roles of each and every one. I think we’ll be able to handle whatever reemergence happens,” Dr. Herbosa said. 

Dr. Albert Francis E. Domingo, Director of Department of Health (DOH) Communication Office and Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, explained that UHC is a systemic reform aimed at making sure that people do not die too soon. He explained the continuum of care and the interventions that happen at various prevention levels. UHC makes primary healthcare work beyond an advocacy because UHC makes health systems work. He encouraged the audience to adopt best practices even without any surge – to practice scenarios on what would happen in such emergencies.

National Scientist Dr. Ernesto O. Domingo, UPCM Professor Emeritus and former UP Manila Chancellor, served as a reactor. The first to organize the UHC  Study Group in 2008, Domingo answered the question, “Could we have done better had we had the Universal Health Care in place?“ with a resounding ‘Yes’; conditionally, provided that non-negotiables are in place. He also centered on the role of two government agencies: DOH maintains oversight function, and PhilHealth serves as a funder with auditing functions retained while having no hand in identifying the services the fund pays.

Meanwhile, Dr. Charlotte M. Chiong, UPCM Dean, emphasized that in a pandemic of this nature, inclusivity is very important because it entailed leveling the playing field for everyone. Despite the challenges, they were able to cope very well. She reflected on the spirit of giving and on the importance of trust as key values in overcoming the “seemingly insurmountable that came from this pandemic” against all odds. 

At the initial stages, 130 interns volunteered within 24 hours to stay in UP-PGH to serve in whatever capacity, keeping the bayanihan spirit that they inculcated on their students in the midst of a pandemic. Like UP-PGH, UPCM remained open and medical education continued. Most donations went to Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), to automated Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machines, and to testing kits in ensuring that they were equipped and made “frontliner-safe”. 

UPCM also made sure they looked after the resiliency and wellness of their students under their pillar program, reassuring them that they would do everything that they can to be able to look after their needs. Students who came from marginalized sectors received financial assistance and laptops. Dr. Chiong considered the end result of their experience with the power of unity and cooperation as a manifestation of immeasurable favor, “I think we’re all here, and I think if we look at how we have survived, all of us here, and even in the audience, I suppose it really speaks volumes about God’s infinite blessing to all of us.” She is confident that the pandemic lessons they learned will enhance further how UHC can be implemented, that the community has the best chance of being able to do it now because we have learned from the pandemic.

Finally, UP Manila Chancellor Dr. Carmencita D. Padilla concluded, “After two years, we can say that we have overcome fear of the unknown with knowledge from this STOP COVID DEATHS Webinar Series. Indeed, we as a community have transformed the COVID crisis into opportunities to build on our resilience, address the weaknesses, and improve our health systems for better response.”

Haziel May C. NatorillaPublished in UP Manila Healthscape No. 39 (May 2022)


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