" Dr Flavier is one of those rare persons who is actually at home in the barrio and among the leaders of the nation. In one day he may spend the morning discussing methods of family planning with barrio women; in the afternoon, he may confer with mountaineers from Vietnam about land reform; in the evening he may be found working with the Department of Social Welfare on strategy for national development." Quoted from the back cover of his first book Doctor to the Barrios 1970, New Day Publishers. Before his second book, My Friends in the Barrio, came out four years after, Doctor to the Barrio's printing reached 24,000 copies, and was translated in Indonesia and other countries. To date, 44 years after, Dr Flavier's books (7 major ones) are still in great demand.
Quoted from My Friends in the Barrios
Dr Flavier introduces the reader to some of the friends in the barrios - and soon they become his friends also. They come alive as, with deft, down to earth strokes, the authors paints them on his canvas of rural life. Readers discover the answers to such intriguing questions as "Do eggs die?" "Why does operating a poultry lead to having many children?" "How does a rural swain woe his girl?" "Who gets rich in rice production?" "How do you explain the IUD in the barrio?"
Quoted from Back to the Barrios
"For the sophisticated Metro Manilan or any other city-bred reader the stories about his friends in the barrios that Dr Flavier relates in his books are refreshing. We can all achieve fresh insights by every so often, going back to the barrios."
Born in Tondo, Manila on June 23, 1935, Flavier grew up in Baguio City where he attended his elementary and secondary years. He attended medical school at the University of the Philippines where he graduated in 1960.
Former health secretary and senator Juan M. Flavier. FILE PHOTO
Shortly after he obtained his medical degree, he chose to be an educator through the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) and the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), organizations which served Filipinos in the provinces through education and training. He later led the organization from 1977 to 1992.
As health secretary, Flavier introduced effective public health campaigns such as curbing smoking and combating HIV/AIDS.
After leading the PRRM and IIRR, Flavier was designated by former president Fidel V. Ramos as the health secretary. By being the health secretary, Flavier was known as “Mr. Let’s DOH It!” which was derived from the DOH campaign slogan under his term.
He instituted campaigns such as the “Yosi Kadiri” campaign, ‘Sangkap Pinoy”, a campaign addressing micronutrient malnutrition, and the “Oplan Alis Disease”, a nationwide immunization campaign.
Under his helm, the Department of Health became an active government agency and became the number one government office under the Ramos presidency.
Flavier is a two-termer senator who championed health and rural development issues.
After serving as the nation’s health secretary, Flavier won as a senator in 1995. As a neophyte senator during the 10th Congress, he was recognized as the senator who attended the most number of committee hearings and did not incurred any absences in Senate sessions.
He won a second term as senator and served until 2007.
Some of the landmark legislations he authored and sponsored include: the Traditional Medicine Law, Poverty Alleviation Law, Clean Air Act, Indigenous People’s Rights Act, Anti-money Laundering Act, Dangerous Drugs Act, Philippine Nursing Act, and the Tobacco Regulation Act.
He was once called an “agent of Satan” by Manila archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin.
When he was the health secretary, Flavier implemented the first anti-HIV/AIDS campaign in the country. Part of his campaign includes the distribution of condoms to Filipinos. Due to this particular effort, he was described by then Manila archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin as an “agent of Satan”
Sources: Reprint from the Internet; Inquirer archives, Senate website, DOH website
Here is a typical story characteristic of the style of Dr Flavier as a storyteller. It is picturesque, a travelogue to a real setting, and meeting real people at the grassroots. The writer's seeming light style, humorous and witty, lessens the seriousness of the topic, yet retains the objective for which the story is written. It is an interesting approach to Philippine literature today, which I personally endorse as
an important aspect in Popular Literature, a chapter in a forthcoming book Philippine Literature Today (Rotor AV and KM Doria, C &E Publishing Co.)
The Power of the Camatchile
Juan M Flavier
It was a fairly common situation. The couple wanted to stop bearing children but so far their children were only of one sex. So they kept having one more hoping the next would be of the opposite sex.
One family reached thirteen offspring in an attempt to have a boy. Another couple had eight boys in a row while trying for a girl.
This is the reason why beliefs about how to procreate a particular sex are rampant. As a farmer said to me, “If you discover how to enable a woman to deliver a child of a particular sex, you will become a millionaire and make family planning more acceptable.”
One of the most common beliefs is that each of the two ovaries gives rise to a particular sex, the right for males and the left for females. Following this belief, the woman is advised to recline on the side according to sex desired after the sex act to enable the sperms to gravitate to the correct ovary.
Another popular advice states that a woman will bear a male if the husband is always tired from work. If the husband has ample time for physical rest then the offspring will be a female.
Still another notion states that the sex of the child depends on whether the sex act occurs before or after midnight.
In a sense I had this problem as my wife had three boys in arrow. We had agreed to have just one boy or one girl. But as I explained to my friends, “My wife did not cooperate!”
Since my wife has a caesarean operation at each delivery, we decided to stop on the third try for a baby girl. I was content to say, “I have two boys and one son!”
Then five years after our youngest son, someone made the mistake of telling my wife that one would have a girl if a couple has had three boys in a row in the Philippines and goes to a cold place like the United States. I was persuaded by my wife to try out trip to America with my family and true enough, the fourth and last was a most welcome baby girl!
To this day, I still have to live down the incident in the hospital. I was so overjoyed with the baby girl. When asked whether the child was a boy or a girl as I got out of the delivery room, I answered with the immortal words, “It’s a baby!”
Of course, when I went to the barrios, my farmer friends eagerly inquired about the secret formula. I had to give some explanation, so I invented one.
There is a simple secret,” I would say. “The trick is to make a baby on the top of camatchile tree.” Camatchile (Pithecolobium dulce) is a common barrio fruit known for its profuse spines and small fragile branches.
“That’s difficult,” the farmers would growl.
“Well, if you want a baby girl badly enough, then you have to do the difficult,” I usually answered and we would all laugh.
One day, Dencio happened to pass by our house.”Naku, duktor, talagang epektibo iyong sistema ninyo (Wow, doctor, your system is really effective)!” he literally shouted to me even before we could exchange greetings.
“Which one?” I inquired.
“Remember the camatchile system? I tried it. Now I have a very healthy girl after five boys in a row,” Dencio explained excitedly.
I was more dumbfounded than pleased. I had only made up the system as a joke and here was Dencio verifying its efficacy. But more surprising was how he could do the impossible. For him and his wife to climb a spiny fragile tree!
“How did you do it?” I asked with avid curiosity.
Dencio stopped a moment as though considering whether to reveal the secret or not. “I cheated a little,” he confessed reluctantly.
“Tell me about it,” I urged.
“I knew we could not do it on top of the camatchile tree,” Dencio explained. “So I cut off a camatchile brach and placed it under our bamboo bed. It is effective, I tell you. We have a girl!”