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The Parables of Juan Flavier

I remember my grade 4 Language professor fondly, because of many things. Firstly, because his first name—Henry—was such an oddity for a ten-year old Pinoy who mostly read American books but was surrounded with names like Jose Luis, Robertino, and other such remnants of our Spanish forefathers. Secondly because he was such a strict man who liked reading a lot.

In hindsight, perhaps he wasn’t really as strict as I made him out to be. I was, quite possibly, just a child who had too much respect for authority back then, and would quail from the sight of a teacher who raised his voice even by just a bit.

But the most memorable thing about Mr. Avecilla (that was his last name) was that one of his weekly projects for the class was the collection of Senator Juan Flavier’s—then DOH secretary— weekly parables. I forget which paper it was his stories appeared in, but Mr. Avecilla’s demands had us children scrambling for clippings of Senator Flavier’s stories around every Friday, I think it was.

juan flavier

I don’t ever recall enjoying those days, because it meant poring through a newspaper—something I disliked back then—but the benefit of age gives me the chance to review those days from a different perspective, and perhaps more than just a little bit of fondness.

One of the most interesting realizations I made recently when thinking back to the days of fourth grade Language class was that the fact that Senator Flavier had the time to write a parable week after week for a newspaper was nothing short of amazing. As the DOH secretary, he was subject to the whims of Fidel Ramos, his president at the time, and one of the more controversial presidents since the 1984 Constitution was made. Life wasn’t very easy for Ramos and his cohorts, especially during the latter part of his presidency.

And on the more localized battlefield of public health, Senator Flavier didn’t have it any easier. He was instituting changes that the powerful force of the Catholic church disagreed with greatly. The good senator had to deal with the repeated criticisms of both lay and clergy officials, and I can just imagine how vexing it must have been to have to rebut each and every one of these without losing his cool.

And yet, he did. Perhaps his weekly ritual of writing had something to do with how he handled the stress from his day job. But it still doesn’t make it any less than amazing.

I write this because of the recent news of Senator Flavier’s passing. At 79, he was at a ripe old age, and he had achieved much in his life, having been one of the most successful heads of the Department of Health. And while his years as a senator were a bit less lustrous than his career as a member of Ramos’ cabinet, he was instrumental in passing some of the most time-enduring laws we have today.

But more importantly—at least for me—he was a man who had, without knowing it, a hand during my formative years.

Thanks, Mr. Avecilla, for making us read all of those stories back in Grade 4. And thank you, Dr. Flavier, for showing us how to DOH it. No matter how much that slogan made you sound like Homer Simpson. Requesciat in pace, sir.

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