On October 26, 2018, the Ateneo Law Student Council held a symposium on the newly-enacted Republic Act No. 11036, dubbed the “Mental Health Law.” The speakers were Dr. Edgardo Juan Tolentino, Jr., a practitioner of psychiatry and a member of the Technical Working Group in the crafting of the bill and Atty. Michael Gerard Victoriano, an associate with Escudero Marasigan Vallente and E.H. Villareal Law and an advocate for mental health.
On the holding of the forum, SC President Robert Escalante says “The spirit behind the symposium is really to raise awareness. Times are changing. Society is starting to recognize the seriousness of mental health and its illnesses.”
The speakers introduced the new law as a huge step towards institutionalizing mental health by giving it an identity and presence and incorporating it within the country’s healthcare system. Before this law, there was none that gave mental health the significance that would direct the country’s attention towards its pressing and dire concerns with the citizens. It was considered as only a branch of medicine that had not been taken seriously until now.
The law provides, among others, important definitions relating to mental health, mental health services down to the barangays, integrates psychiatric, psychosocial, and neurologic services in regional, provincial, and tertiary hospitals, the improvement of mental healthcare facilities, standards with which facilities and practitioners should comply, and a penal clause for violations of these rights and compliance standards.
One prominent feature of the law is that it “affirms the basic right of all Filipinos to mental health as well as the fundamental rights of people who require mental health services.” The law is strictly in line with the obligations under international conventions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities and local statutes such as the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons.
Another salient item is that it stipulates the integration of mental health into the education system. It should now be part of the curriculum at all educational levels and institutions when it used to be limited only to health-related programs and institutions who can afford teaching such.
“With this, we can begin to approach mental health openly,” answers Dr. Tolentino when asked about the effects of the law. The law, however, is not yet perfect. Just as we are still discovering more about mental health, the law still has room for improvements. “It is not perfect and still is bound for amendments in the future,” he adds.
With the implementing rules yet to be made and the budget still being deliberated, Atty. Victoriano emphasizes that what we can do for now is advocate mental health and change the stigma and the attitude towards it.
Escalante stresses the importance of mental health awareness as law students: “We are students of Ateneo Law and we will one day be part of the legal profession. With that, our words carry more weight. People will listen when we speak which is why we need symposia and movements like this, because how can we spread awareness when we ourselves are not fully aware? This is only the beginning and we have to make sure that it doesn’t end here.”
The advocacy for mental health has indeed been strengthened by the enactment of this law. The Act encompasses mental health and obligates the State to comply with international mental health standards by providing a system of checks and balances to ensure its full and proper implementation, the first of its kind.