Manila: When Nelia Angeles-Abrogar learnt that her husband Allan Abrogar was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukaemia (CML) in 2004, she thought the world ended. The cost of the ailment was alleviated “a little bit” when he became one of hundreds of patients who received free medication (for trial) of glivec from Novartis (a pharmaceutical firm).
“When someone has cancer in the house, every family member has cancer. Everyone shoulders the physical, emotional, and financial weight of cancer,” said Abrogar, adding it could make or break a family.
The family’s 12-year up and down journey made the 62-year-old arts and crafts enthusiast, decorator, and events stylist become part of the growing families of Filipino cancer patients, their travails, despair, hopes, and overcoming.
The CML-afflicted patients who took the Novartis anti-cancer medicine were assisted by The Max Foundation, which metamorphosed in the Philippines to ‘Touched by Max’ in 2003. Incorporated in 2005, it was led by Mrs Abrogar as president from 2005 to 2008.
In the same vein, Dr June Lapada, 42, who studied surgery in Brooklyn, New York, established Cancer Inc in 2008 in his office in St. Luke’s Medical Centre, in Metro Manila’s Quezon City. Centred steadily on his advocacy to help more cancer patients than devote time on surgery, Lapada said, “The plight of Filipino cancer patients as well as their loved ones deserves to be alleviated.”
Lapada’s family did not suffer much from cancer, unlike Abrogar whose dad Mamerto Angeles died of prostate cancer in 1997, sister-in law Ester Angeles of cervical cancer in 1998, and brother Gerardo Angeles of urinary bladder in 2014.
No one was spared by frightening data of cancer cases in the Philippines, including Cancer Atlas’ data that there are 14.1 million new cancer cases in 2012; and the World Health Organisation’s prediction that one out of two people would have cancer in 2040. Lapada’s and Abrograr’s groups formed coalitions of cancer care-related groups and gave birth to Cancer Alleviation Network for the Care, Education, and Rehabilitation (CANCER) of cancer-afflicted people as a sectoral party.
Part of CANCER is Emer Rojas, an engineer in his late 50s who survived throat cancer, and who is an antismoking advocate and head of New Voice Association of the Philippines (NVP), which was 1,000 members who are either afflicted or have survived throat cancer.
In its first try, the Commission on Elections allowed CANCER among 185 party-list groups to campaign and seek seats at the House of Representatives in May.
At rallies, Rojas speaks through a loudspeaker lodged near his throat. Young Lapada would charm voters and the media with his cherubic looks.
“I speak in non-Catholic Christian churches — about hope for people with cancer. We join rallies of presidential candidates who like our advocacy,” said Abrogar.
“I’m so excited, happy that our advocacy for cancer patients is now a platform of possibilities — like creating laws to institutionalise care for cancer patients such as free hospitals, 100 per cent coverage in Philhealth (government-run medical insurance), no discrimination against cancer-afflicted employees, and more campaign for educational awareness about cancer,” said Abrogar about CANCER’s hard-to-achieve plan in Congress.
In a Social Weather Station survey from March 30 to April 2, CANCER was not yet among the top 12 sectoral parties with more than two per cent of national votes. “But it is inching upward,” said an insider.
A Philippine law says there should be one party-list representative for every four district representatives, a 20 per cent ratio or a total of 59 seats out of 234 elected district representatives.
Voters elect district representatives only in their respective districts, but they vote nationwide for only one party-list representative. A party-list is expected to reach two per cent “soft” election threshold. Party-lists that win the most number of votes get three seats (maximum) each; with more than two per cent votes, two seats; and less than two per cent votes, one seat.