Doc Quasi’s lifelong journey | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

Doc Quasi’s lifelong journey

/ 03:58 AM September 19, 2014

To mark the first death anniversary of Dr. Alberto “Quasi” Romualdez, former health secretary and staunch campaigner for and defender of health rights, especially reproductive health and rights for the country’s poor, a “memorial event” was hosted by several NGOs and the Department of Health last Monday.

The event was dubbed “Celebrating the Life, Work and Vision” of Doc Quasi, who had made an indelible mark in his engagements with the government, academe, civil society, and international health groups. What is even more remarkable is that throughout his life of service to the nation, Doc Quasi kept a consistent record in working toward the provision of health to all Filipinos, but especially the poor and marginalized.

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Michael Tan, who also writes a column for this paper and now serves as chancellor of the University of the Philippines Diliman, said he had long wondered “where Doc Quasi was coming from,” having once confided in Tan that he was a “socialist.”

It certainly wasn’t Doc Quasi’s family background, said Tan, as he hailed from the socially and politically prominent Romualdez clan (he was a distant cousin of the Imeldific) and led a life of privilege. Perhaps it had to do with his international exposure, and his acquaintance with the health systems in much of the world where healthcare is socialized, so unlike that in the United States, and the Philippines, which share what Tan calls a “superfetish for capitalism.”

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Perhaps it had to do with Doc Quasi’s being a “secular humanist” at heart, a “perpetual learner” who, even as he was already dean of the UP College of Medicine, sat in on Tan’s medical anthropology classes and contributed actively to class discussions.

It was Doc Quasi’s mantra, said Tan, that “no one should die simply because they could not afford healthcare.”

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  1. Marita Reyes, who served alongside Doc Quasi as college secretary and assistant dean when he was dean of the UP College of Medicine, recalled his openness even to associates he did not know personally or was not close to, and willingness to “give opportunities for others to lead.”

As for the role of UP and the doctors it trained, it was Doc Quasi’s contention, said Reyes, that, having been educated with public funds, UP medicine graduates were duty-bound to “address the needs of the majority of the Filipino people, emphasizing the need for “community orientation and service in underserved areas” for UP graduates.

But it was when they had to confront the so-called “admissions crisis” that embroiled the UP College of Medicine, said Reyes, that she had a taste of the man’s courage and boldness. When the crisis blew over, Reyes, who took over Doc Quasi’s position as college dean, was ordered to resign as a faculty member by the UP Board of Regents. Although he had retired from the college, Doc Quasi insisted on “canceling his retirement and demanded that he be reinstated as a faculty member so he could be dismissed together with me,” recalled Reyes. The order was eventually rescinded, and one lesson Reyes learned from that unfortunate incident was that “a leader owes loyalty to his constituents.”

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BUT feminists and RH advocates will best remember Doc Quasi as a “late” recruit who fought vocally and tirelessly for the passage of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Law, basing his arguments not just on his lifelong advocacy for health for all, but on his journey toward feminism, his embrace of women’s and young people’s right to full awareness of RH issues, the full range of RH services, and to quality healthcare regardless of ability to pay.

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We were colleagues on the board of Friendly Care Foundation, where he had served as executive director, and he pursued with passion the foundation’s commitment to provide quality family healthcare to the “working poor,” especially in the field of reproductive health. And in various forums to strengthen public support for the RPRH bill as well as in his columns in the newspaper Malaya, he spoke out bluntly on the culpability of the Catholic Church in perpetuating the unequal status of Filipino women and in blocking efforts to promote the overall health of women and young people.

Esperanza Cabral, herself a former health secretary who was the keynote speaker at the celebration in honor of Doc Quasi, exhorted everyone present to keep in mind the philosophical and practical underpinnings of his professional life, urging all to measure their lives against his own, “and try not to fall short.”

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I cannot stay for the responses of members of the Romualdez family, including Doc Quasi’s widow Peachy and children Ace and Brigida, but I am sure they felt much more keenly—than his colleagues, cohorts, and cocampaigners for RH—his dire absence in this critical period when the RPRH Law is being put in motion.

Still, we remember with gladness and admiration Doc Quasi’s life spent in a grand

mission to serve the sick and the poor, a

mission that sprang, not from experience, but from a mind and heart that saw injustice and wrong and strove to right them, no matter how long and hard the struggle.

Let me close with these words from the song “Kung Kaya Mong Isipin” by Joey Ayala, used in a video tribute for Doc Quasi:

Kung kaya mong isipin/Kaya among gawin/Isa-isang hakbang lamang/At ika’y makakarating/Tulad ng puno/Na Galing sa binhi/Ang mga dakilang gawa’y/Nagmumula sa guni-guni/Ang mga dakilang gawa’y/Nagmumula sa guni-guni.

(If you can think it/You can achieve it/One step at a time/And you will arrive at your goal/Like a tree/That springs from a seedling/Great deeds/Start from the imagination/Great deeds/Start from the imagination.)

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TAGS: Department of Health, Dr. Alberto “Quasi” Romualdez, NGOs, UP College of Medicine
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