DOH employees remember Flavier as inspirational leader, ‘small giant’
MANILA, Philippines — “We have difficulty letting go. But with so much love and affection for Dad, it’s easy to lose the sadness and join you in your celebration and appreciation of the wonderful life that he has lived,” Dr. Jondi Flavier, son of former Sen. Juan Flavier, said in the necrological service held on Tuesday at the Department of Health (DOH) convention hall in Manila.
Participants of the Doctors to the Barrios Program closed the service with a song after Flavier’s staff members at the DOH delivered eulogies about the former health secretary’s legacy.
“It is with the presence of people like you that we are able to let go and allow him to go home to God,” Jondi said.
When Flavier was appointed health secretary in 1992, he visited the regional offices “to rally the devolved health personnel to work in lock-step with the DOH” and coined the action phrase “let’s DOH it,” former head executive assistant Susan Mercado said.
Flavier selected 25 existing programs to be launched in 1993 but because it didn’t rhyme, he said, “Let’s just select 23, so that we can say ’23 in 93,’” Mercado recalled.
These programs included the Yosi Kadiri (smoking), the Oplan Alis Disease (polio immunization), Pusong Pinoy (highblood pressure), HIV awareness, family planning and Doctors to the Barrios.
“He was a communicator and needed no prepared speech. He said, ‘Susy, if you give me anything longer than one page, I will not read it.’ I just made bullets and from there he would weave stories, jokes and health messages,” Mercado said.
“The public health issues he chose to be most vocal about were not easy, and it did not take long for his detractors to come out openly against his campaigns on family planning, condom use and tobacco control,” Mercado said.
“He could have played it safe but he didn’t. He hated hypocrisy and pretense. He stood tall against some of the biggest interests and institutions in the country,” Mercado said.
Former executive assistant Ramon Navarra Jr. recalled how the Church actively campaigned against Flavier but he still landed in the fifth spot of the senatorial race in 1995.
In the Senate, Flavier “strived not to be the best, but the most useful senator.” He authored the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act, Poverty Alleviation Act, Clean Air Act, Indigenous People’s Rights Act, Philippine Nursing Act, among other pieces of legislation.
He also attended all Senate sessions and committee hearings, earning him the moniker “Mr. Quorum.” Navarra said that Flavier’s attendance numbered to a thousand while the next senator had about 400.
“He had no bodyguards. He said the Filipino people were his bodyguards. And if the people can’t protect him, nobody can,” Navarra said.
Acting Health Secretary Janette Garin said Flavier remained joyful despite the challenges of handling the department and taking care of the health of every Filipino because “he wanted to inspire us, to mask the problems and lead by example by coming out smiling but made sure every problem was solved along the way.”
Former executive assistant Michael Felipe Mercado said that more than missing Flavier, the Filipino people would miss those “few shining moments in history … when guns of rebellion and insurgency fell silent so Filipino children can be vaccinated.”
Health Secretary Enrique Ona, who was on leave, also delivered a eulogy. “Johnny set the standards so high. We, in public health, are all pygmies as we stand on the shoulder of a small giant,” Ona said.
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