Doctor at PGH becomes lawyer to push for health reforms in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – While many would say that being a doctor is great because you earn a lot of money, there are many doctors in the Philippines who are actually spending their time and own money to help poor people in dire need of medical assistance.

When Lee Edson Yarcia was a young boy, he dreamed of becoming a scientist. He had always planned on going to the University of the Philippines (UP) to pursue molecular biology. But he was drawn to UP Manila’s Integrated Liberal Arts in Medicine (INTARMED) program which allows students to become a doctor through an accelerated and intensive 7-year curriculum.

It was during his internship at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) that he saw how difficult life can be to the poor folks in the country.

“It’s so crowded and the resources were so limited. You would see all types of patients come in. And they would usually come to PGH when their disease has progressed… Some of them would not have money,” Yarcia recalled.

“Many of them come from provinces and they would fall in line as early as 4, 3 am. Even if they do so, the [doctor in charge] would prioritize those who would be at the brink of death.”

It was in 2012 that Yarcia became a doctor; but he decided that the Philippines needs someone to push for health reforms to ensure that the poor will get much-needed medical assistance from the government. He could partially do this as a doctor but knew he could achieve more if he became a lawyer.

Doctor at PGH becomes lawyer to push for health reforms in the Philippines
Photo credit: Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Thus, Yarcia enrolled at the UP College of Law even while juggling his medical career and working at PhilHealth’s special projects office, focusing on policy work and advocacies through the universal health care program.

He was also hired as consultant for the Health Policy and Development Program by the UP School of Economics, working on the program’s maternal and child health policy.

Yarcia was on his third year in law back in 2016 when the government launched its intensive war against drugs. Seeing the action the government is doing on these drug users, he was among those who advocated for a human rights-based approach as he joined NoBox Transitions Foundation.

“The goal was very basic. It was just to say that putting people in prison or killing them or basically stigmatizing them and subjecting them to a punitive environment will not work,” Yarcia explained.

“What the proposal for the harm-reduction bill contemplates is that there should be more community-based public health services that could address the root cause for any issues related to drugs.”

Last year, Yarcia completed his law degree from UP Diliman and just recently passed the Bar exams. Now a lawyer, he works as junior associate for the Poblador Bautista & Reyes Law Offices to practice litigation work and become a trial lawyer.

Yarcia plans to practice both medicine and law even as he pushes for health reforms he wishes to achieve in the Philippines.

— Joy Adalia, The Summit Express

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