Echoes of the past | Inquirer Opinion
Hints and Symbols

Echoes of the past

/ 04:25 AM February 28, 2022

In this column, I previously referred to a prominent physician who was killed during the Marcos regime, Dr. Remberto “Bobby” dela Paz (“A good doctor,” 5/18/20). Most of what I know of him has been from my parents’ anecdotes and from press coverage of his death; while I do not pretend at personal knowledge of the case or closeness with the family, I will say that the story impacted my own decision to go into health care. Dr. Dela Paz, who has inspired generations of physicians to remember that health is political, worked with his wife and fellow doctor, Sylvia dela Paz, in the province of Samar.

By all accounts, he could have had a more lucrative career elsewhere. Instead, he set up a community-based health program in Samar. There, Dr. Dela Paz took on the life of a community doctor, attending to the sick in remote villages and educating local health workers. Some reports said he served anyone and charged little, usually none. They also said that while in Samar, he and Dr. Sylvia witnessed the poverty and deprivation suffered by the poor. The couple was soon labeled subversives. While aware of the threat to their safety, they continued their work. On April 23, 1982, a man walked into Dr. Dela Paz’s clinic and shot him. The doctor died the next day.


Sometimes I still think about why he was targeted, when he was only doing what a community doctor ought to do. In “Marcos Martial Law: Never Again,” Raissa Robles wrote that the military was “suspicious of him since he was treating the poor, often for free.” The Philippine Council for Human Rights, investigating in Catbalogan after the murder, found that Dr. Dela Paz was under military surveillance up to his death, and that the death fit “into the pattern of treatment accorded by the military to persons suspected of engaging in subversive activities.” A 2012 memorial article by Bulatlat quoted the doctor’s brother Daniel as saying, “In the provinces, if the authorities knew that you were from UP, you were automatically considered subversive. If your community tax certificate stated that you were from Manila, you already ran the risk of being tagged as a member of the New People’s Army.”

The labeling and the murder were senseless and cruel, further crippling an already disadvantaged community while targeting an individual based on slim evidence. I cannot grasp how a physician doing generous and sincere work can so easily be Red-tagged and killed.


While many other physicians are writing about the arrest of Dr. Natividad “Naty” Castro, I will risk redundancy and lend my small voice to the outcry supporting her. Sheila Coronel, reporting for the Philippine Panorama in December 1982 (“Who killed Bobby dela Paz?”, 12/12/82) wrote of how Dr. Dela Paz’s death would have gone unnoticed, but due to the “dogged persistence” of friends, family, and colleagues, the case gained widespread coverage. Not that this resulted in justice being served; Coronel also wrote at length about a pursuit of justice that was ultimately frustrated by cover-ups and intimidation of local witnesses. The cases of other slain physicians gained traction because of friends and colleagues. While no justice has been served to this day, it’s important for us to keep bringing light to these activities and to the culture of fear and impunity that they bring about, in the 1980s and today.

I cannot help but see parallels between Dr. Dela Paz and Dr. Naty Castro, as doctors dedicated to their communities and wrongly pursued. In light of her arrest, I invite the reader to keep up with the case. Dr. Castro, who has long served disadvantaged communities in the Caraga region, has been accused of being a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines and is facing kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges. She was taken into custody two weeks ago. According to family members, no warrant was brought and they were not informed of where she would be taken. Both the Commission on Human Rights and the Free Legal Assistance Group have pointed out violations in the law and procedure of her arrest, including denying Dr. Castro access to her family and legal counsel plus medication for her co-morbidities.

If, as Malacañang says, the arrest has nothing to do with Red-tagging, then due, proper, and transparent process should still be followed. As it is, the event falls into a pattern of baseless arrests and prolonged detentions that we have seen repeatedly, and which sadly echo events in our contemporary history. Are we going to allow yet another physician to be removed from disadvantaged communities just because they serve and advocate for the poor and marginalized?

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TAGS: Bobby de la Paz, Hints and Symbols, Kay Rivera, Marcos regime, Naty Castro
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