But isn't this like pinning a medal on a child when she naturally takes her first step. Sure, we are happy when a child starts to walk. But giving her a trophy for that may stretch the imagination a bit.
Isn’t everybody supposed to walk?
Shouldn’t our attention be more focused towards those unfortunate people, those Filipino doctors who did not and will not take the first step towards the Filipino people who sacrificed to educate and train them to attend to the health needs of the poor in the Philippines? Shouldn’t we ask ourselves the question why 62% of the Filipinos die without seeing a nurse or a doctor while the streets of our cities are white with the uniforms of student nurses who aspire to go to the States because 88% of them are already there and so are 70 to 90% of our doctors?
So we have come to this: pinning gold medals on the chests of the heroic few who stayed to serve the underserved people in the Philippines in the faint hope that this may encourage other young doctors to do the same.
Strangely enough, the most vociferous support for the DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH project comes from the Filipino doctors who abandoned the Philippines and prefer to remain in the United States of America. (ONLI IN DA PILIPINS!)
But don't get me wrong. I fully appreciate their yearly tax deductible medical missions here in the Philippines as their way of paying back their debts to the mother country.
But I should not deviate from the awards.
If the purpose of the awards is to encourage young doctors to stay in the provinces where they are needed most, then we must first take apart and examine the education and training of these young doctors in the universities and the medical schools so we may find out why so many of them refuse to serve their own people and instead opt to leave the country to work for the almighty American dollar.
Bakit nakatungo na ang mga nguso ng ating mga medical students sa Amerika sa pagpasok pa lang nila sa college of medicine? Ano ang nasa tubig and hangin ng UP college of medicine at 70% to 90% ng kaniyang mga graduates ay nasa abroad sa halip na pagsilbihan ang taong bayan ng Pilipinas?
What went wrong? And how can we make it right?
Shouldn't we teach Pagtatanaw ng Utang na Loob at Pagibig sa Inang Bayan side by side with Histology and Pathology in med school? Or is the psyche of the medical student so obtunded towards the needs of his people that we have to force him to sign a contract of service to stay in the country for three years after graduation as a prerequisite for entrance in medical school? Have the deans of the different colleges of medicine in the Philippines asked themselves why, for generations, they have been educating the cream of our young people only to export them to the USA? And if so, what have they done to change the attitude of their students other than this lazy, band aid solution of a contract of service after graduation?
Or does this problem extend beyond the reach and the grasp of the medical school curriculum? Perhaps the problem also stems from the fact that our youth grow up in a damaged culture dominated by a demented media that daily offers seductive possibilities of being instant slumdog millionaires by answering a few inane and irrelevant questions, in the midst of fireworks, blinking lights and bodies of gyrating young women; a culture that prefers to sit and watch for luck, divine intervention, or opportunities for open, barefaced fraud or force to improve one's status in the community.
Whatever happened to hard work, perseverance, sacrifice, postponement of gratification, singleness and purity of purpose in the Filipino culture? Is service to one's own people already an anachronism in the minds of our young? Has the Filipino become so pathetic and pathological that fathers no longer teach these things to their children and such values are no longer enshrined in our schools and universities?
Is the image of a doctor in the Philippines that of somebody who drives to the hospital in a Volvo, BMW, or Mercedes Benz and who has little or nothing to do with the great unwashed, outside of the few fortunate patients who make it to the UPPGH; a young upwardly mobile professional whose idea of community involvement is to open his car window on a rainy night to drop a few coins into the starving hands of street children offering scraggly sampaguita leis in Makati street corners?
Questions that we are loath to face and prefer to ignore. Because we already know, but are afraid of the answers.
Because confronting these questions would draw us out of our comfort zones and place the responsibilities that come with our present privileges directly on our shoulders.
And then we can no longer gripe, and whine, and blame Spain or the USA as the colonizers who corrupted our culture; we can no longer gripe and whine and blame our inutile government, our corrupt politicians, the equally corrupt military, our outdated and irrelevant religions, our anti-progressive traditions and our primitive cultures for the dismal health situation our countrymen find themselves in today.
Then we have to blame ourselves. Squarely. And then proceed to do what we have to do.
So tonight, we are awarding three young doctors who bravely faced these questions. And answered them. Not in so many words. But silently, in so many deeds.
These are three young people in Mindanao, Visayas and southern Luzon who went against the almost irresistible stream of cultural adulteration and pollution in the Philippines, the constant presence and abetment by media of unmitigated greed and materialism in our cities, the hostile and unbearable milieu in the provinces; and when the heavens were falling to pieces around our people, bravely stood up, tall, to shoulder the sky for them.
Then it is only right that we should honor these young doctors, chosen from the few, the rare, distilled from the defeat and desperation of the poor people they serve, bathed in the sweat and blood of their own sacrifice and self denial, yet showing the brilliance of their dedication to the medical profession they claim as their birthright, for they are the precious gems that they really are.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Philippines', our Motherland's Jewels: the Phi Kappa Mu's DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH. Vietrez Panganiban David-Abella, Mennie Cabacang and Afdal B. Kunting.
[Dr. Jose “Ting” M. Tiongco, chief executive officer of the Medical Mission Group Hospitals and Health Services Cooperative-Philippines Federation, writes a column, Child of the Sun, for MindaNews. He is author of two books, “Child of the Sun Returning” (1996) and “Surgeons Do Not Cry” (2008). The second book is available at UP bookstore, National bookstore and MindaNews]