The measure of a life
Earlier this year, after being confined at the American Hospital in Paris following a bout with septicemia, Alberto “Doc Quasi” Romualdez wrote an open letter to all his friends, relatives and colleagues who had expressed their concern and wishes for a quick recovery.
“And so, I am well once again and ready to return home,” he told them. “For whatever reason, my life has been spared once more and I need again to try and be ‘good’ in order to be worthy of this great honor called life. With the help and support you have all contributed, I know that this time, as in other times, I will achieve a slightly higher standard of ‘goodness’ than before.”
And that he certainly did. In what would turn out to be the last few months of his life, Doc Quasi certainly filled his days trying to be “good,” and to do “good,” championing many of what some would call “hopeless causes” for the benefit of all Filipinos, but especially of women and of the poor.
At the memorial service spearheaded by the NGO Likhaan in behalf of the women’s groups, people’s organizations and reproductive health and rights community, speakers extolled his lifetime’s worth of work for the health and rights of our people.
Referring to his nickname “Quasi” (from Quasimodo, the “Hunchback of Notre Dame”), former congressman Edcel Lagman, principal author of the RH Law in the House, declared that the former health secretary “surpassed the import of his nickname” (which means in Latin “almost to standard”).
Said Lagman: “In his endeavors and commitments he was far from being only ‘almost,’” citing among other accomplishments Doc Quasi’s “brilliant and effective” stewardship of the Department of Health; his being a “giant of an advocate” as a crusader for universal health care to benefit primarily the poor and disadvantaged; and an “advocate par excellence” in the fight for reproductive health and rights.
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FOR her part, Sen. Pia Cayetano, who led the fight in the Senate not just for the RH Law but also for measures such as the PhilHealth Law and Cheaper Medicines Law, described Doc Quasi as a steadfast and staunch supporter and resource.
During the floor debates, said the senator, she would glance from time to time at the place where Doc Quasi and other advocates were sitting for confirmation of her responses to the bill’s critics, as well as for moral support.
Romualdez was “one of my mentors…instrumental in many of the health measures I worked on,” she said.
Indeed, so seriously did Doc Quasi take his role in seeing the RH Law to fruition that, according to Lagman, he “was an ubiquitous presence in practically all congressional committee hearings, RH caucuses and reproductive health celebrations.” When he showed up at the Supreme Court during the oral arguments, recalled Lagman, “Doc Quasi would invariably approach me and announce: ‘Edcel, I am reporting for duty!’ His advocacy was a duty he imposed on himself and from which he would not flinch, shrink or deviate.”
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IT WAS indeed a truly moving, touching service by Doc Quasi’s “purple army.” Most of those who attended were requested to wear purple, and it was amid this mass of purple, the “women’s color,” that the portrait of the mustachioed champion and advocate stood out.
Toward the end of the service, singers Lolita Carbon, Cookie Chua and Bayang Barrios, now known as the “Tres Marias,” paid tribute to Doc Quasi through song, as did folk legend Joey Ayala.
Some lines from the song “Awit ng Mortal” (Mortality’s Song) struck me amid the growing sadness of the waning afternoon.
“Ano ang sukat ng/Halaga ng ’sang buhay/Kayamanan ba/O di kaya ang pangalan/Ano ang timbang/Sa husto o kulang/Ng adhikain/Ng katuparan/At paninindigan/May gantimpala bang/Dapat pang asahan/Upang kumilos nang tama’t makatwiran…/Ngayon pa lang simulan mo na/Saglit lamang/Ang ating buhay/Tilamsik sa dakilang apoy/Ang bukas na nais mong makita/Higit pa sa pinagmulan.”
(How do we measure/the value of a life?/Is it wealth/Or is it a good name?/ How do we weigh/What is enough or lacking/With ideals/With fulfillment/And commitment/Is there a prize/We should hope for/Before we live rightly and reasonably…/You should begin at this moment/Brief/Is our life/Just a spark of the great fire/The future you dream of/Is greater than your beginning.)
Indeed, it was the way he lived his final moments, battling ailments he concealed from friends and colleagues, fighting on for causes difficult, indeed impossible, to grasp, that Doc Quasi burnished his name and sealed his reputation.
It is a lesson we shall treasure in our hearts, burn into our consciousness. In the end, one’s life should end with more than what we bring to it at our birth.
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HERE’S a way to celebrate an early Christmas, hark back to the days when you were young and in love, and help a worthy cause.
On Nov. 12, the Manila Hotel presents “The Lettermen” in a dinner concert, the beneficiaries being Rotary Club District 3810’s “End Polio Now” project as well as the victims of the Bohol earthquake. Club president is Dr. Joyce Reyes.
The Lettermen, known and beloved for such romantic hits as “When I Fall in Love,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Theme from A Summer Place,” “Goin’ Out of My Head,” “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” and many more, will also please local audiences with such Pinoy romantic favorites as “Dahil sa Iyo” and “Sapagkat Kami ay Tao Lamang.” Also, in keeping with the Yuletide season, the Lettermen will also enchant audiences with their new versions of Christmas songs, which they will launch in their latest CD.