House seeks to create Medical Reserve Corps – health professionals who can be called to serve during health crises

Table of Contents

  • Who can join the Medical Reserve Corps
  • Voluntary membership only
  • Should senior citizen physicians be included?
  • Need to dialogue with doctors to know their sentiments
  • ‘It will be an honor to serve,’ say 3 young health professionals

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught many lessons, one of them the need to strengthen the country’s health system to respond to a national or global health emergency.

One of the solutions proposed in the House of Representatives is the creation of the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), a pool of health professionals who the government may call to serve in times of pandemic or public health emergency.


Eleven measures have been filed in the 299-man Lower Chamber that sought the creation of the MRC to ensure that the healthcare system is “resilient” and “never overwhelmed” during emergencies.

“We would not have to worry about the health system crashing due to lack of health workers because in worst case scenario, we will have readily available highly trained professionals to supplement the country’s health workforce in times of public health emergencies,” Quezon 4th District Rep. Angelina “Helen’ Tan said.

Tan is the chairperson of the House Committee on Health that created a technical working group (TWG) to consolidate the 11 MRC measures, including her House Bill No. 7331.

Who will be part of the MRC

The measures state that the MRC shall be composed of the following:

  • Licensed physicians to include those who are retired and those who are no longer practicing in the hospital setting;
  • All persons who have degrees in the field of medicine, nursing, medical technology, and other health-related fields but have yet to have their respective licenses to practice;
  • Licensed allied health professionals;
  • Medical reservists of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP);
  • Public health experts, scientists, and non-medical volunteers trained for health, emergencies, and other necessary services.

Inclusion of retired physicians

Under HB No. 7331, Tan specifically sought the inclusion of the retired licensed physicians and licensed allied health professionals in the MRC.

“It is the choice of the senior citizen doctor should he/she wish to enlist as part of the medical corps. There is no compulsion in this law, however, it is encouraged. Should they choose to enlist to be part of the medical corps, that is when the Secretary of Health can call them to respond to health emergencies,” she said.

Dialogue with doctors needed

Independent health reform advocate Dr. Anthony Leachon expressed support to the bill “for the love of country”, but disagreed with Tan’s proposed inclusion of senior medical physicians due to their vulnerable conditions.

“I think there must be a dialogue and a survey to know the sentiments of the doctors. The lead agency is PMA (Philippine Medical Association),” he said, raising concern that the implementation of the program would mean displacement of private doctors.

“The Health Human Resources plan and compensation package should be discussed with the leaders of the medical community,” he urged.

He also asked the lawmakers to see reference models in other countries and check on their experiences and best practices as they deliberate on the measures.

Law can allow DOH to mobilize reservists

The proposed “Medical Reserve Corps Act of 2020” allows the Secretary of the DOH to mobilize the enlisted MRC to respond to the health emergency.

“Under the current set up, the DOH cannot mobilize health professionals to strategically address health human resource concerns as existing laws hinders us from reassigning and deploying public health professionals,” Tan laments.

In case of deployment

Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur 2nd District Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte Jr., author of House Bill No. 7007, said the medical reservists will be given individual serial numbers, which will serve as their identification in case of deployment.

He said mobilization centers will be established in each province and city as needed to which members of the MRC will report when mobilization is ordered.

“The purpose of this bill is to ensure that our healthcare capacity will not be overwhelmed by a surge in in-patient volume during times of public health emergencies. This will help us to always flatten the curve when such emergencies arise because even if a lot of people get sick at the same time, our facilities will have enough medical frontliners to treat them,” Villafuerte said.

He noted that on July 27, President Duterte himself recognized the need during his fifth State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) to have a law passed creating the Corps.

Proponents of the bill

The other main proponents of the bill are: Quezon City 5th District Rep. Alfred Vargas, Parañaque 2nd District City Rep. Joy Myra Tambunting, Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, Quezon Rep. David “Jay-Jay” Suarez, Northern Samar 1st District Rep. Paul Daza, MAGDALO partylist Rep. Manuel Cabochan, Nueva Ecija 1st District Rep. Estrellita Suansing, Sultan Kudarat 2nd district Rep. Horacio Suansing Jr., and Zamboanga del Sur 1st District Rep. Divina Grace Yu.

Enlistment is voluntary

Tan said the only downside of the proposed Act when it becomes a law is if there would be no healthcare professional who would be willing to be part of the MRC.

“At the end of the day, the enlistment for MRC is still on voluntary basis and consensual. We cannot compel our healthcare professionals by law due to the constitutional proscription against involuntary servitude. Hence, we have to make the Medical Reserve Corps palatable to every healthcare professional so they would be encouraged to enlist,” she said.


We asked three medical health professionals about their comments on the proposed law. Here’s what a 20-year medical technology student from Calapan City, a company nurse from Quezon City, and a practicing doctor for nine years say about the MRC:

Jophel Jeline Matutina, 20, a medical laboratory scientist student at Lyceum of the Philippines University in Batangas, said she would not think twice before joining the MRC program.

“The helpless situation on the ground, the increasing number of people dying, the undermanned and congested hospitals, and our exhausted frontliners made me think that I should do my part. Despite the risks, I am willing to sign up as a medical laboratory scientist in the future,” she said.

Kathleen Chloe Maralit, 27, who is currently working as nurse at Phinma Property Holdings Corp. (PPHC), said it would be a privilege to be part of MRC, which will serve as “helping hand” during times of health crisis and emergencies.

She said to make MRC attractive to health professionals, the program should provide proper compensation and insurance, as well as benefits that may help the family while one is doing work with the medical corps.

“I will definitely be honored to serve my country as part of the medical reserve corps. But, the health and safety of healthcare workers must be assured in order for us to look after the health of our countrymen,” said Dr. Marco Romulo R. Manzano, a 34-year old pediatrician.

He said before implementing the program, the government has to ensure provision of proper personnel protective equipment (PPE) and sufficient benefits or compensation.

“Clearly, we have a shortage of healthcare workers in our country now and even before the pandemic. This is especially true in the rural areas since a lot of doctors prefer to practice in the cities because of easier access to facilities/equipment. This problem must be addressed in order to have an efficient healthcare system,” Manzano, who hails from Marinduque, said.

Technical working group

On August 25, 2020, the House Committee on Health created a technical working group to thresh out differences in the 11 bills and come up with a substitute bill.

The principal authors of the bill expressed hope that Congress will be able to pass it “this year or early next year,” recognizing that the bill is a SONA-priority measure.

10 doctors per 10,000 population

Citing the data culled from Hamburg-based online portal Statista, Vargas, the author of HB No. 7157, said as of April 2020, there are only 10 doctors per 10,000 population in the National Capital Region (NCR), while there were only 0.8 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).





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