3 February 2017
Message at the 50th Anniversary Dinner of the Association of Philippine Medical Colleges, Novotel, Cubao, Quezon City, February 2, 2017
A few years ago, I was visiting Barangay San Jose Oras, Ocampo, a small town in my district, right after a storm. I saw an old lady I later came to know as Lola Espy. She was carrying a huge bundle of dirty clothes she was going to wash in a nearby stream. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Why was a really old lady doing her own laundry?
It turns out, laundry was the least of her concerns. I went with her back to her house and saw a tiny, makeshift hut with a dirt floor, walls, and roof that could hardly protect the inhabitants from the elements. Inside was her grandson who was bedridden because of cerebral palsy. She has been taking care of him for 34 years now.
On good days, they eat rice with water and salt. She claims they never get sick. In my mind, I thought, how can we, with clear conscience, live in a world that neglects the likes of Lola Espy?
I posted pictures of Lola Espy on social media and so many kind-hearted people sent monthly groceries, and materials for a better home. She and her grandson needs regular medical attention to make sure they are protected from fatal illnesses. Unfortunately, as you well know, medical care is still not easily accessible in our country, especially among the poor.
We have chosen public healthcare as one of the priorities of the Office of the Vice President because if our people are sick, are not getting enough nutrition, are constantly sliding into poverty because of the high cost of healthcare, they don’t stand a chance. The brilliance and massive potential our people have will be laid to waste.
The students that walk your halls will eventually walk out into the world in places where the likes of Lola Espy live. It would be such a big help to nation-building if in your schools, you train them not just to save lives but to save our country, by using their gifts and their talents for the poor and marginalized.
You can respond to the call of RSO or Return of Service Obligation, promote it in your schools, and make it a point to encourage your students to take it to heart. You can bring the place of learning out of your classrooms and into communities hit by typhoons, showing them how to respond to the call of service during calamities.
As you do, you don’t just enrich your experience; you also bequeath a better future for our country through your own skills. Doctors are great doctors, not just because of their skill, but also because of what they do with their skills.
Remember that no contribution in public healthcare is too little. Your hands and your heart, when they work together, save lives and save generations. The war against drugs have policemen with guns, duct tape, and signs that say, “Pusher ako, wag tularan.”
The war for life have doctors and healthcare practitioners with great hearts and empathy, and signs that say, “The doctor is in.” To me, it is the war for life and the war against poverty that are the bigger wars here. And your doctors are one of our greatest weapons.
My husband Jesse has always wanted a doctor in our family. He once asked his sister Penny if becoming a doctor was difficult. She responded with some affectionate ribbing: being a doctor was difficult when the patients you treat are sent by your brother with a little note asking for free consultations and treatments.
Penny ended up shouldering all of the medicines of the patients while there were confined AND their bus fares going back to Naga when they get well. Penny being Penny, she did it for her brother and for her love for service.
Jesse said to her being a doctor is being in the service of the people at all times, if you do your job the right way. Jesse has in fact sent some Naguenos to med school with the promise that they would come back to Naga to practice there. I think this is why my daughter Tricia is working really hard in med school. She wants her papa to be proud of her.
For me, the vision really is to see one doctor for every Filipino family in the country. The vision is that the next generations of doctors will be lining up to serve those who need them most, where it matters. All this takes is people willing to link and collaborate. People willing to give service that counts.
I will not call serving our nation a responsibility. I call it a privilege. Its an opportunity to fulfill the greatness of our legacy. That of service. That of service that counts. That of service that counts to a nation with much potential for greatness.
The plane crash that took my husband’s life taught me to grab every chance to serve. To live our lives to the fullest each day.
To say “I love you” as much and as often as we can. To look at our loved ones in the eyes when we do. To hold hands.
To say “thank you.” To call the waiter by his name. And know that he may not know how to save your life, but saving his will be a privilege very few people have.
These are little things that can counter a growing culture of divisiveness, polarization, impatience, and frustration that is blowing across the entire world. It pains me no end to observe that being mean is in, while the homegrown values of service and empathy is out.
People’s liberties are in danger and our very own way of life is under attack. The best way to begin recapturing our core values is to look within ourselves. Service that counts is a great beginning.
Thank you for listening. I hope APMC will see many more years and decades of service to the nation.