Salute! | Inquirer Opinion
In the Pink of Health


Expectations are high in medical scientific conferences. One comes to these sessions hoping to not only be updated on what is new and existing, gather additional or fresh insights borne from research, but also to relearn basics outside one’s expertise to improve professionally and ultimately provide better patient care.

In practice for the last two decades, I have heard from speakers, both local and international, who are known and respected in the medical field. While their expertise, kilometer-long credentials, achievements, and the content of their talk are more than impressive, to my knowledge, only a handful have ever succeeded in making the audience voluntarily get up on their feet to clap in extreme appreciation.

“Gender Neutral Leadership: The Best Man for the Job is a Woman.” This was the title and the opening statement of our plenary speaker, who was tasked by the organizers to speak on how she was able to secure a spot and continue to survive in a man’s world. Just a few days before her talk, she was awarded Most Outstanding Pediatrician of the Year. Most of the people in attendance had no prior knowledge of her background beyond her being a colleague and a neonatologist. Her involvement with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the role she had played during the pandemic, and her current position came as a surprise to many. Her story is worthy to be retold many times over.

She began by saying that she is a middle child and because of this, she had to learn to be assertive. She attributed her being comfortable around male company to having five brothers. The idea of training in the military had not been part of her plan but had come from a friend. Deciding to tag along, she enlisted after her board exams with little knowledge of the multiple challenges ahead, and that this was the first step toward a life-long career. She pursued further training in pediatrics, subspecialized in neonatology and at one point was contemplating leaving military service, beset with doubts if she could successfully blend her two lives and still be relevant. Reflecting on how she has evolved into the person she is today, she thought it best to share her philosophy in life and how her choices have largely influenced the person that she is now.


Her first guiding principle is learning to adapt to any situation. Early morning wake-up calls, quarterly physical fitness tests, protocols, traditions, uniforms, and being on call are part and parcel of military life. One needs to have the right mindset, flexibility, plus sensitivity to understand that your male colleagues are also adjusting to your presence. Though there have been major changes that have been brought about by Republic Ac No. 7192, authored by Sen. Santanina Rasul and Camarines Sur Rep. Raul Roco, which aims to provide equal opportunities and guard against discrimination against women, the fact remains there are still significant differences and boundaries to be respected.

Find your passion. Written in her slide were the words ”intersecting military roles with advocacies.” While she may have initially thought that her medical background would be limited to providing care to neonatal and pediatric patients, the various positions that she has held in the AFP Health Service command enabled her to expand herself, not only outside her expertise but beyond the confines of the military walls. Amongst her notable projects were the promotion of breastfeeding amongst the personnel, rabies prevention, and infection control. Her knowledge of the latter was instrumental in the conceptualization and realization of the COVID-19 Complex in the Victoriano Luna Medical Center where she was chief in 2020. Designated as the deputy commander of the AFP Regional Task Force, her team was responsible for operationalizing national isolation facilities and a mega swabbing facility, and provided the needed support to hospitals by deploying medical teams within and outside the National Capitol Region.

Listening to her, I remembered a previous conversation wherein she said that the pandemic and the challenges that life brings are exciting times, as they provide opportunities to help more people and learn the extent of one’s capabilities. She echoed this in her lecture and ended by saying that her journey was defined not by her gender, but by her character, family, the choices she had made and continues to make, and her unwavering faith in God.

In her inaugural speech, she spoke about ”dreaming of an AFP health service that the soldiers can rely on and that the Filipino people can continue to count on. An AFP health service that will save lives, heal wounds, and continuously give hope.”


She is the perfect example of a patriot, a physician, a public servant, a wife, and a mother.

To Brig. Gen. Fatima Claire Santos Navarro (MC), the 57th and first female Surgeon General of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, WE SALUTE YOU!


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TAGS: AFP, women empowerment

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