Flavier, a barrio parable
Former health secretary and senator Juan M. Flavier’s departure for the next life on Oct. 30 was timely. Timely—that is minus the prefix “un-” that denotes our human unwillingness to part with a loved one—because he departed from this world when government personages are embroiled in huge controversies and revelations that boggle the mind.
Timely because his passing at age 79 made us pause and reflect on his life of joyful service that once brought smiles and laughter into our lives. Timely because even in death, he made us remember that public servants ought to make life happier and better for the served and not the other way around.
Flavier, with his wit, wisdom and humor, was a giant in my eyes. Long before he served as health secretary in President Fidel Ramos’ administration he was already a popular man, not in the way celebrities and powerful figures are popular, but among the farmers in rural villages where he served as a doctor and community development worker.
He was like a burst of sunlight in the early 1990s when he took over the Department of Health and showed his brand of health service that made people become conscious of what government can do for them health-wise, and what they can do to help themselves. He was 58 then.
I was fortunate to see him up close and follow him around when I was assigned to do a cover story on him as the Inquirer’s Filipino of the Year for the Sunday Inquirer Magazine (“Juan M. Flavier: Doctor for All Seasons,” 1/23/93).
The creative communicator that he was, Flavier used every means possible to push his programs, among them, Doctors to the Barrios, AIDS awareness, anti-smoking, vaccinations. He was a media darling, newsmaker, crowd-drawer. During his first 60 days in office, he received more than 300 speaking invitations. He was a favorite guest on radio and TV, the perfect subject for feature stories. He even became the toast of the showbiz world and guested in a TV sitcom. Entertainment personalities helped him push his awareness programs among the masa. But when, in his zeal, he caused pain to a few, he said, I’m sorry and even shed a few tears.
He could speak of eternal truths or sanitation problems and bring his messages across with sparkling clarity. His talks were spiced up with Philippine anecdotes, some of which defied translation. He delivered his punches right on cue and he could move his audience to laughter or to tears. He was truly gifted.
More than 30 years of rural development work made him what he was—sensitive to people’s needs, steeped in the wisdom of the simple folk.
Flavier gave me seven of his books which he autographed. They are stacked beside me now. Four volumes of “Parables of the Barrio,” “Doctor to the Barrios,” (his first, published in 1970), “My Friends in the Barrios,” and “Back to the Barrios.” Cheap and easy to read, the books are about his rural experiences when he headed the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement and, later, the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction which won the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1986.
I felt a bit sad—but not for long—when, after his stint in the Ramos Cabinet, Flavier ran for senator and won. He served for two terms. His health-related bills were a boon to health- and wealth-challenged Filipinos.
What more can I say? Many articles were written about Flavier after his passing, so let me share one of his own to make you laugh a little. I chose a short one, titled “The parable of high technology.” The diminutive Flavier was like his parables—short, crisp, funny, down-to-earth and proudly Filipino.
“An American, a German and a Filipino were in serious discussion, arguing about their respective countries’ advanced technology. The American volunteered to make the first exhibit when they met again after one week.
“And so he did. He said: ‘On this piece of slide is the smallest pin in the world, so small one needs a microscope to see it. High tech equipment was used to make it.’”
He invited the German and the Filipino to look into the microscope. There it was, the tiniest pin in the world.
“The German took the pin and said he’d be back in a week. When the three met again, the German put the pin under the microscope for the American and the Filipino to examine. He had put an eye on the pin so it could be used as a needle for sewing.
“It was the Filipino’s turn to take home the needle and do something with it. When the three got together again, the Filipino put the world’s tiniest needle under the microscope.
“‘You have not done anything,’ the American and the German told the Filipino.
“‘Oh,’ the Filipino said, ‘take a good look at the side of the needle. Look closely and you will read something.’
“The two looked into the microscope again. True enough, something was engraved on the world’s tiniest needle. It read: ‘Made in the Philippines’.”
Are you laughing now?
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On this, Flavier would smile with approval. Last year I wrote about a mission hospital being built by the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in Pambujan, a fourth-class town in Northern Samar. More hospital beds are needed there. If you wish to donate one (worth about P60,000) please contact Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB, ([email protected]). If the donors agree, their names will be written on the beds.
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Watch multi-awarded Ditsi Carolino’s documentary on the Dumagats affected by the construction of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone in Casiguran, Aurora. “The March to Progress” is being shown this week on the Al Jazeera channel. Catch it on Friday at 12:30 midnight. The docu will be online after its TV showings. Visit http://m.aljazeera.com/story/2014112122317640995.
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