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Committed to stay

It was more than a year ago when I signed a contract or an agreement between me and the university. The contract has nothing to do with academics, or how I will conduct myself in school, or how I am supposed to pay all my fees before I can take the final exams. I was enrolling in a medical course and I had to sign a contract that has nothing to do with the years I will spend in studying.

It is a real contract, one that you can read and that can get you in trouble in case you violate its terms. It is an agreement binding me to stay in the Philippines after completing my medical studies. It says I have to serve the Filipinos for three years after I graduate.

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Simple math tells me I have to stay in the country for at least the next eight years. I wonder why three years is such a big deal that my enrollment depended on it. I mean what can one really accomplish by staying for just three years? That time is much too short.

But then for those whose ambition is to see the world and stay (and maybe hide) in a foreign country where the grass is greener and the temperature is cooler, staying in the Philippines can be a big burden. Besides, what work will they be doing here?

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I was born in a province where most people believe that going abroad is the only way to a better life. Who would not know about the overseas worker who just built a house in the town proper, or the young woman who at a relatively early age already provides for her family? It is a story known to the tambays at the sari-sari store.

For the record, the six of us in the family always had something on our plates. We had no serious financial problem that could not be solved by taking a small loan from the bank or the insurance company. We were not well-to-do but we managed to get on with our everyday lives.

My parents were government employees and their children were enrolled in public schools. We lived a very ordinary life.

Tatay died when I was in second year high school and my three older siblings were in college. So Nanay had to provide for the four of us. And she managed to do it.

Life in our province is so simple that P500 goes a long way in the Sunday tiangge. But people still want to leave, probably because, as my cousin said, there is no hope for progress in our town. I mean, the people there are not starving, but they do not earn enough to save and have a better, more comfortable life. That is why they resolve to work abroad. I can understand why they want to do that.

I have always wanted to be a doctor. When I was small, Nanay, a midwife, sometimes brought me to the community health center where she worked. There I would play with prescription papers and medications that I saw around. Several times, she brought me with her to remote barangays for an immunization or medical mission. We had to ride a boat or a carabao or climb mountains to reach some of those places.

Even before I graduated from high school, I promised myself that I would work in the Philippines after I finished college. That promise and my dream of becoming a doctor didn’t contain any contradictions. In my youth I saw many people in dire need of health care. I knew how difficult it was to deliver health services to very far areas, especially for those at the bottom of the health workforce. So I thought that if I would become a doctor, this country would still be the place for me.

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I received a government scholarship in college which required me to work in the field of science for four years in the Philippines. As if that was not enough, I applied to and entered a medical school that saddled me with two more post-education obligations. One is a government scholarship requiring me to practice my profession in the Philippines for 10 years after graduation. That’s really nothing, as far as I am concerned, because otherwise I would not have been able to attend school. The other binds me to contract, the one I signed more than two years ago.

Now I am in my second year as a medical student. Ours is the second batch of students required to sign this return-service agreement. Every day we are reminded to serve the Filipino people the best way we can. We are exposed to the harsh realities of children dying from simple ailments. We get a peek at the dark corners where patients have to buy things from outside the hospital so they can have their medication. We are being called by the sick and those who need help.

That is why, almost two years after I signed that agreement, I am still asking why the contract that requires me to stay for three short years is necessary. For any Filipino who has a conscience, it is a social responsibility, nay, an obligation to do one’s part here in the Philippines. But then for a state university where 70 percent of graduates used to leave for greener pastures in the United States, that contract has become necessary.

I have to provide many years of service to the under-served Filipino people not because my Nanay and I signed that piece of paper, which was notarized and filed and now serves as evidence of my obligation, but because I have a commitment to serve or at least give back to the ordinary workers and farmers who pay their taxes and send me to school, and to the sick and needy who have never even seen a doctor all of their lives. This country, in which overseas workers are considered more heroic than the teachers, doctors and other workers who stay in spite of the measly salaries they get, needs healing.

On Dec. 3, 2009, prior to my admission to the university, I willingly signed the contract. It was really unnecessary. I had long committed myself to stay.

Kris Conrad M. Mangunay, 22, is a sophomore at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine.

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