Executive Summary

THE WEST PHILIPPINE SEA was strewn with hues of blue and green and across stood the warm and sun-basked Sulu Sea, the long strip of land bears a rugged terrain of mountains and hills, its shores running towards the shoals and coral reefs. But not unlike Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, underneath the idyllic and ageless portrait lies the sinister face of great indigence, depravity and disservice. Health, a fundamental human right, is imperiled and left to disregard.

It was a trip to the island province of Palawan, the summer of 1968, that changed Dr. Jaime Z. Galvez Tan’s life—a memorable sojourn that served as an eye-opener, a looking glass that showed him the disconsolate state of the rural countryside where images of destitution and disease cascaded without intervention. For two months, he immersed in this neglected social reality and it was then that he took on the challenge of changing this uncontested picture. Adamant and unyielding to both rigor of serving thousands and temptations of a comfortable lifestyle, he started his calling as “doctor to the barrios” right after medical school.

Starting as the de facto Municipal Health Officer in the island municipality of Maripipi, Leyte in 1975, Dr. Galvez Tan, or Dok Jimmy to many, went on to various rural areas of Samar and Leyte partnering with the Rural Missionaries and dioceses developing community-based health programs and training health workers; then to Kalinga-Apayao, Cagayan, Cavite, Samar, Leyte and Davao del Norte to control tuberculosis through community-based programs with AKAP; to Agusan and North Cotabato with Health and Development Mindanao; moving on to take care of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao with the UNICEF, Department of Health and Health Futures Foundation, Inc.

In the rural areas, Dok Jimmy literally lived in poverty like the majority of his patients. Despite these hard living conditions, it was easy for him to remain undeterred in fulfilling his mission: to empower the Filipino people. He practiced in doctorless communities with no electricity and hardly any transportation, slept in different homes, holding clinics in the morning and training health workers in the afternoon. Through hills and high-rise, through shores and slums, this doctor of the masses, this doctor for the Filipinos has endeavored and continues to endeavor health for all.

“I know there were so many people in need, so many places without doctors. I just had to go and move from one place to another,” he recounted. “I will stay in an area for a year or six months. But at the end of the year, I see to it that you will be empowered. You will know what to do with yourself even though there is no doctor.”

He is, as many UP College of Medicine students describe, “the personification of public health and community development in the Philippines”. A professor of the College since 1998, he has long been molding young minds in service to the Filipino people – as advocate of Return of Service for all health graduates of state colleges and universities, as Medical Patriotism lecturer and as mentor whose experiences serve as both motivation and inspiration. Hundreds of doctors have followed his footsteps, doctors who chose to stay in the country working as clinicians in hospitals, municipal health officers and health leaders to become pillars of our healthcare system.

From the hinterlands of Palawan and Maripipi, the expertise of Dok Jimmy has been tapped by international agencies for health and development. Taking root from decades of solid grassroots community work, extensive clinical practice and academic involvement, he also works as an international consultant on Health Policy Development, Health Planning and Health Systems Development and remains as one of the Philippines’ foremost expert in health systems, local goverment health development and integrative medicine.

Apart from being a mentor to future doctors, Dok Jimmy is also an active researcher and author, believing that studies are there not “for knowledge’s sake but to advance the well-being of the people.” Research, he confides, “should put the people and community in the heart of its all undertakings,” as sound science remains a precedent for successful policy development and implementation.

Throughout the years, Dok Jimmy stands true to his personal tenet, Country First, Self Later—a value that sets him apart from many of his peers. His service to the community and institutions for learning, along with the organizations he founded (trailblazing projects like the Alay sa Ginhawa at Kalusugan), have contributed to become exponents of social progress. In whatever he does, he continues to be guided by patriotic ideals, by the Hippocratic Oath of consecrating his life “to the service of humanity”, dedicating his career in healing those who have the least and motivating healers to join him in his strides.