Filipino-American Nurses Weigh in On Honeylet Avancena As Next First Lady

There are plenty of firsts in a Duterte presidency. He will be the first president to come from Mindanao, the first to rise from a local executive to the country’s chief executive, and the first to file his candidacy after the mandated period of application.

He will also be the first president to take office separated from his wife. Such scenario has people speculating who would assume as the First Lady.

One interesting possibility is Cielito “Honeylet” Avancena, 46, who has been Duterte’s domestic partner for several years, and has been in visible throughout his campaign sorties. While the unmarried Benigno Simeon C. Aquino has his sister Kris Aquino as the first lady, Duterte has said his daughter Sara will be the next in line, a claim Sara shuns.

Honeylet, who met Duterte while she was a nurse in the US, comes from the ranks of overseas Filipino workers. Described as uncomplicated woman, who is more comfortable working behind the scene, Avancena soon found herself in the spotlight especially now that Duterte has won the presidential race.

“Alalay lang,” she would tell reporters, understating her role in his life as simply that of an aide.

There is little known public knowledge about Avancena, except that she spent four years working as a nurse in California. For such reason, Filipino-American nurses see this as a leverage she can use to influence the president in terms of health policy or in related aspects such as a review of the quality of the nursing education in the Philippines.

“The fact of her being in a position close to the incumbent president, somehow she becomes an advocate to give importance and elevate the nursing profession,” said Menchu de Luna, a Neonatal ICU Clinical Nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital, according to GMA News.

Belinda Rosales, Assistant Director of Nursing at the Henry J. Carter Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility shares the same belief.

“I like the idea of a First Lady who is more attuned to the needs of the people, who has seen how the people live in the Philippines, and in a developed country like the U.S. It will be a good basis for comparison of our way of lives, and how to improve it.” As a Registered Nurse who had experience working in the U.S., Honeylet can have a “significant impact” on healthcare issues, such as Filipino children’s nutritional status.

“I remember the ‘nutribun’ that we ate in elementary school in the 1970s. With 28 million people living in poverty in the Philippines, children’s nutrition can be an issue that might be given attention (by a First Lady who is a nurse),” she said.

Rosales added that Avancena can complement Duterte’s work.

“Since Duterte is big on drugs and reducing crime rates, maybe she can start an anti-drug campaign in school. Or maybe she can revamp our sex education campaign in the middle school and high schools, make the tweens and teenagers more aware of how HIV+ and sexually transmitted diseases can be prevented,” she said.

Retired registered nurse Marissa Torres Langseth said a Filipino nurse who has worked in the US is “exposed to different people from all walks of life and culture, is open-minded and uses critical thinking in her decisions.” This should make Honeylet, if and when she becomes First Lady, a true health care advocate.

“Nurses are mostly humanists, mixing science with caring,” she said. “They take care of other people more than themselves. They work long hours, watching people die, seeing the reality of life and death. They are there when you are born and comfort you at the end. OFW nurses leave their families behind to work abroad for a better future. Filipino nurses are good ambassadors for the country.”