Country First, Self Later
Doctor of the Masses
Doctor of the Filipinos
The hills were overlooking the Sulu Sea and the sun glared directly overhead. The heat was prickling, the knees protesting, the grasses spread disinterestedly. Between copse, coppice and littering trees, a 20 year old young man sat to think.
It is like service is the other pea in the pod of Dr. Galvez Tan. At a very young age, Dok Jimmy, as he’s often called, has been doing outreach work in the poor areas of his community and church work.
That summer of 1968, Jimmy set out on a boat towards Palawan for a two-month medical mission sponsored by PANAMIN. It was his first time away from home, far from the comforts of his bed and far from the daily conveniences that he used to take for granted. From north to south, east to west, Jimmy together with eleven other volunteers spread across the hills and shores and scoured the vicinities of the island municipality.
On that hill, the young Jimmy pondered and asked himself. Why do I have to go abroad when there are so many people who need me here? The sunset that day became witness to Jimmy’s epiphany and shift in life direction. There he decided to walk on the road less travelled. At the end of the day, the Palawan experience became an antecedent of things to come. He concluded,
Emerging out of the Palawan experience I said, I will stay in the Philippines. I will not leave home.
Maripipi, Biliran 1975
Jimmy arrived after eight hours by boat one morning of July in 1975. The trip was turbulent and all along he stood out among the dozen or so promdi passengers; he was a city boy all his life and now, the cityscape broke into the cliché landscape of sand and coconuts. Beside his legs, a large bag carried his stethoscope and everything he thought he would need. Waiting for the results of his board exam, he picked out Maripipi for his degree’s community service. At last, after waiting for years, the 16 barangays have finally been able to say, “The doctor is in”.Dok Jimmy started his career as a physician in that piece of island in Biliran, Leyte. Literally living from house to house, of whoever was kind enough to take him in, he served as the only doctor to the thousands of inhabitants cut off from the conveniences that cities seas away enjoyed. Most of them could not afford the trip and if they did, most of them would not be able to afford the physician’s fee. There, until December, Dok Jimmy became a town hero to the people of Maripipi, years of complaints and signs and symptoms kept among themselves have now been heard and given remedy.
The work is ex officio, not from any local government unit but from being an Iskolar ng Bayan, and runs beyond the conventional clinical hours. He would see people day or night and every day of the week. The compensation ran from cents to eggs though they were not required. Beyond the clinics, however, more things need to change. When he is gone, who would take care of them?
“The people are the owners and actors of their own welfare,” Dok Jimmy would often be heard. Understanding that greater benefits lie in a community-based and participatory approach, he did his de facto clinics as he trained volunteer community health workers and conducted health campaigns for immunization and environmental sanitation. Dok Jimmy seemed to take things seriously for quite a humorous charismatic young man, translating the years he learned from medical school piece by piece. After seven months, the University of the Philippines College of Medicine graduate and Class 1936 Leadership Awardee went to another rural village in Leyte.
MAKAPAWA: Palo, Santa Fe and Pastrana, Leyte
Dok Jimmy soon became program coordinator of a pilot health and development program, MAKAPAWA Community-based Health Program, run by the Rural Missionaries in July 1976. The Diocese of Palo and the Redemptorist Fathers of Tacloban City were his partners in this new mission to poor rural villages of Palo, Santa Fe and Pastrana, Leyte. Beyond the clinics and trainings that he conducted, he worked on to organize community health committees in the villages.
In his stay in the community he met and worked with the local traditional healers and this planted the seed to what would be his love affair with Filipino traditional medicine and other forms of indigenous healing. Here started what would be a lifelong goal of integrating local knowledge and alternative medicine and practices into mainstream practice.
CBHP Gandara, San Jorge and Matuginao, Samar
Working again with a diocese, he served as project director of the Diocese of Calbayog, Samar’s Community-based Health Program and the Gandara Farmers’ Integrated Development Program from 1976-1978. He planned, designed and implemented health programs in rural villages of Gandara, San Jorge and Matuginao, Samar.
To reach Matuginao, he had to take a six hour jeep ride and a ten hour boat just to be able to see patients. Together with a team of community organizers, he conducted health clinics, trained volunteer community health workers and organized farmers’ associations in their struggle for health, food security and land tenure through land reform.
It was a legacy all worth it – putting health in the hands of the people. As to date, San Jorge and Matugunao remain doctorless. After him, no brave heart of a doctor has set foot in San Jorge and Matuguinao to give remedy.
Health and Development Mindanao: Davao, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte and North Cotabato
In 1981, Dok Jimmy established and assumed the post of Projects Director for Health and Development Mindanao up to 1983. Coordinating with the Dioceses of Butuan (Agusan) and Kidapawan (Cotabato) and in partnership with Basic Christian Communities and farmers’ associations, he worked with a team of nurses and community organizers in planning, designing and implementing community-based health programs for Davao, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte and North Cotabato. In the spirit of empowerment, the barangay health workers and the communities were taught how to take care of themselves. They were trained about preventive health, how to manage simple illnesses using the resources available to them in the area, ie. medicinal plants, acupressure and when to refer. Referral systems to the Barangay health stations and rural health units were also established.
Alay Kapwa Kilusang Pangkalusugan
Taking from his years as a rural physician, Dr. Mita Pardo de Tavera invited him to serve as National Training Director of Alay Kapwa Kilusang Pangkalusugan (AKAP) in 1978. Using the community based approach to control tuberculosis, training programs were designed and implemented for communities in the provinces of Kalinga-Apayao, Cagayan, Cavite, Samar, Leyte and Davao del Norte.
Training and Education Assistance for Community Health
Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, Dok Jimmy took his time to change one rural village or urban informal settlement at a time. In 1985, he directed Training and Educational Assistance for Community Health (TEACH) Cebu for the development and execution of an urban community-health primary care program in the slums of the Cebu City.