She was the winner for Luzon. Dr. Mennie Cabacang was the Visayas winner, and Dr. Afdal B. Kunting was the winner for Mindanao.
The contest was sponsored by the Phi Kappa Mu fraternity of the UP College of Medicine and the Rotary Club of Paco, Manila. A brainchild of Alvin Anastacio, the project was conceived to mark the Phi’s 75th Anniversary last year. It was also intended to reward doctors who have chosen to stay in remote areas and serve these communities.
I had the good fortune of accompanying Vey to the 2-day whirlwind of courtesy calls and tours which preceded the awarding on the night of March 3, 2009, which was held at the Grand Ballroom of the Century Park Hotel. On March 2, we were fetched at UP by JF Gutierrez and Tomi de la Paz, a nephew of Dr. Bobby de la Paz, the iconic figure of Filipino doctors serving remote Philippine areas. We first proceeded to Robinson’s Place in Manila for lunch at the Gloria Maris Restaurant where we met the awardee from Mindanao, Dr. Kunting, his wife and daughter, Vince, of Phi, as well as several brods. After lunch, we proceeded to pay courtesy calls on UP-PGH Chancellor Dr. Arcadio, and Dr. Arcilla, Dr. Carmelo Alfiler, and Dean Alberto Roxas. Then we proceeded to Manila City Hall for a courtesy call on Mayor Lim. This courtesy call was set, then called off, then pushed through finally. The Mayor was a gracious host. He had his staff serve us brewed coffee (very good!) and empanada, gave keys to the City to the 3 awardees, gave us copies of a book on him by Nick Joaquin, which he graciously autographed for us. He also took the time to reminisce on the 3 movies made with him as the leading character. The actors who portrayed him were Rudy Fernandez, Eddie Garcia, and another known actor. The mayor’s office was full of photos of him with popular figures in Philippine politics and movies, among others. The mayor also posed with awardees, their companions, and Phi Kappa Mu brods, who just happened to have this huge seal of the fraternity with them. The mayor reminisced or was reminded that last year the Phi had donated several wheelchairs to the city of Manila. He commented that the Phi was the role model for fraternities. One only has to recall that UP Diliman fraternities as well as Ateneo frats, in marked contrast, have gained notoriety for hazing incidents which have resulted in deaths of neophytes, as well as rumbles where even policemen have been killed.
After the call on Mayor Lim, JF drove us to Aloha Hotel where we were to stay for 2 days. We barely had time to shower before it was time to go to the dinner which was hosted by Dr. Jose ’Jogon’ Gonzales, renowned thoracic surgeon and Phi brod. Also present at the dinner were the high-ranking officers of the Phi, like their Superior Exemplar, a soft-spoken, young looking person whom I later learned was at the Phi tambayan at the UP College of Medicine Campus, when Xenia submitted Vey’s entry on the last day of the contest. (I read later at the Awarding Program that the contest was actually extended, but of course at the time we couldn’t have foreseen this. Better submit on time than lose by a technicality.) Thus, the original awarding ceremonies scheduled on December 9, 2008 was moved to February 26, but had to be re-scheduled to March 3, because February 26 “coincided with the District Convention of the Rotary International District 3810″.
Next day, March 3, Vey and I woke up early and ate at the Aloha Coffee Shop Breakfast Buffet. Soon, it was 8 a.m. and JF and Jayson Paragas arrived to accompany us at the Jeepney Tour which had been arranged by the Phi. The Jeepney was airconditioned. Also, the 3 awardees were now complete, in fact, had been, since the dinner last night.
We first stopped at Rizal Park, and strolled through the Heroes section. Our tour guide, was, by the way, a very amiable fellow whose wife went along for the ride, who cracked jokes endlessly, and who even sang with the karaoke an endless selection of Filipino favorites, both foreign and local. Next stop, Fort Santiago, where Rizal was incarcerated prior to his execution. The path Rizal took from his prison cell to the execution site at Luneta was marked with shoesteps made of metal, probably bronze. Somebody explained that the steps dld not go all the way to Luneta but stopped at the gates of Fort Santiago, for practical reasons. We also saw the dungeon where Filipino prisoners were kept. Somebody with us said that at high tide, these dungeons would be submerged under water, effectively killing off all the captives. Poor Pinoys! Or rather, Indios! A highlight of our tour here was a caruaje ride around Fort Santiago. As usual, they said that the caruaje could seat 9 (!) people but we didn’t bother testing the limits: only the wife of Dr. Kunting, his daughter, and Mennie rode at the ‘back’ or inside of the caruaje, while Vey and I rode at what should have been the driver’s seat. The driver rode at the area somewhere between the front seat and the horse, actually the carriage frame. (Nothing new. When I was a child, on full moon nights in Batangas, my Kakang Iya would pass by for us and we would ride around the town with the calesa packed to the rafters, so the calesero had to sit sidesaddle on the floor. The horse would go very very slowly, clip-clop-clip-clop and only after several turns would Kakang Iya take us home. I didn’t realize at the time how much I’d miss those simple pleasures. It was dismaying when I learned later, when I already had several children, that the calesero turned bangus fry smuggler, a sign even then that people turned to more lucrative but illegal pursuits just to survive.)
By the way, Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios” is now etched on 2 long acrylic panels and prominently displayed at the Rizal Museum, where Rizal souvenirs are sold.
Next stop, Intramuros, where we saw a light and sound presentation of Philippine history which dwelt largely on Rizal, his novel’s characters, and the marked contrast between the privileged lifestyle of the colonizers and the substandard subsistence of the colonized natives. A long presentation which literally opened several doors.
A brief stop at Manila Cathedral. Our guide joked that not too many are getting married here now because it is known infamously as the place where Sharon and Gabby got married, and everyone knows how their marriage ended up.
Finally, it was with a sense of relief that we welcomed the guide’s announcement that we would eat at Barbara’s, a very classy restaurant with real silverware, clean white tablecloths, good plates, good food. I think that this place must have been a former mansion, Spanish-style, which was converted into a restaurant. If one hoped that the Philippines has moved on from its colonial past, the patrons at Barbara’s belied that. Most were foreigners, expats, insulares, mestizos. I guess our group was the only typical Pinoy, which was still the cream of Philippine society, composed as we were of doctors and medical students (JF and Jayson) belonging to the elite medical fraternity Phi Kappa Mu. The food was good, the service very efficient. No plate which had been eaten on was allowed to stay long on the table.
The only place left to tour after this sumptuous lunch was San Agustin Church. We were surprised that this church was full of huge paintings, porcelain and clay jars and several relics of the past, as well as antique furniture whose value is inestimable. Unbelievably, this place has been rebuilt from the ruins of the former church which had been destroyed by the bombing of World War II. I’m reminded of the Iraq Invasion, which destroyed centuries of artworks, relics and books which dated back to the glory days of the Babylonian empire. Something to be said against wars!
After San Agustin we went on back to the Aloha so we could prepare for the awarding night. Vey and I had our hair and face done professionally, an expense well worth it when one considers that the photos and videos of the awards night will last for quite a time, if not forever. After that, we changed into evening wear. Vey, Mennie and Afdal were fetched first, then Dr. Kunting’s wife and daughter, and myself.
Then the interviews, the program proper and the dinner. The guest speaker, Senator Dick Gordon, was busy and could not come on time. But when he did come, he made everyone happy with promises of aid to the awardees’ communities, like ambulances and other aid, esp. to his pet projects like the Red Cross. It was a good program. The families of the awardees were asked to join them on stage for photo ops, all together, then singly. When the Phi furnishes us with copies of the pictures, we will post some of them here, and some on my and Vey’s Facebook accounts. As luck would have it, I have to rely on Vey’s and the Phi’s photos of the event as my camera jammed while I was loading a new roll. But that’s the only fly in the ointment of the night. The food was good (donated by Century Park), and so were the speeches. The smoothly-organized affair came to an end around 10 pm.
I had planned to go home in a taxi, but the Phi’s members JF and Jayson wouldn’t hear of it. They drove me to UP Diliman (JF reasoned out that he was already familiar with the place, since he was the one who had fetched Vey and me.) As for Vey, she would be staying behind at Aloha, esp. as Rene had already arrived from Virac. So had Pattie, Vey’s best friend at Virac and co-founder of the Virac Ladies’ Circle.
A treasure trove of memories packed in 2 days! I hadn’t realized so much could be done in so short a time. In fact, when Dr. Jose Gonzales saw us at the awarding, I referred to the dinner he had hosted “two nights ago”. In fact, it had only been the previous night.
Thanks to the Phi, the Rotary Club of Paco, all the sponsors, and everyone who made the event possible. A complete listing isn’t possible here, but in the end, we are glad that Vey took the challenge in the short time available to her since she learned of the event through Faye. It wasn’t easy, but then, nothing worthwhile ever is.
Congratulations again, Vey, Mennie and Afdal. It was nice having known Mennie, Afdal, and his wife and daughter, as well as the Phi brods whom we met in those two days. They really left no stone unturned in their effort to honor the awardees.
['Salamat, Dok' briefly featured the event last Saturday, March 7, and will feature it again on March 14. The program is seen from 6:00-9:00 am on Channel 2, ABS-CBN.]