Quietly and unobtrusively, one of our great public service leaders passed away last week leaving a void that will be hard to fill, if ever a candidate comes along.
Dr. Alberto G. Romualdez was a medical doctor trained at the University of the Philippines and Harvard Medical School. At an early age he was appointed Dean of the UP Medical School and eventually became the Director for the Western Pacific of the World Health Organization. He served as Secretary of Health for three years (1998-2001). The best years of his life Dr. Romualdez committed to public health. He pursued his career with the premise that health care was a basic service that was the right of all from whatever spectrum of society one originated from. He committed himself to do his share to bring it to reality.
Abandoning the idea of building up a lucrative private practice for the sake of pursuing the course of public health service, Dr. Romualdez became a resource person for academic, practical, and effective day-to-day medical health care for all, particularly for the poor.
He was an ubiquitous presence on health issues be it symposiums, lectures, legislative hearings, or government health service debates. He was experienced, articulate and always modest. His personality was low key but compelling for what he knew, for the kind of experience he had, particularly on public health. When he reached the cabinet, he kept himself as we knew him. No entourage of aides or gofers came in his wake or as advance parties. He did things the way an ordinary citizen would. His accomplishments he kept to himself. One had to do the research, he was not one to tell you. In the midst of his high offices, important posts, influence, he had a simple, unostentatious day to day life in a middle class subdivision where he lived for years. He was a parishioner of his neighborhood church, who gently told the priest who displayed the usual hostile and inaccurate accusations on the RH Bill that his parishioners’ consciences should be respected, and he cited himself as an example. Morality and professionalism were at the core of his being and he conducted himself keeping to the best standards whether moral or professional.
I met him when he became president of Friendly Care, an affordable health and family planning service. Once when a mayor of an island unexpectedly came to me fretting about the lack of medical service in his town, I could only turn to Dr Romualdez to handle it. It was beyond me. He never hesitated or demurred, but quickly went into action. He managed to borrow a private plane, land on the island, inspect its absence of medical facilities, suggest what the local government could ask for from the Department of Health, push the request from his end until the results came through. The whole affair was a matter of course for him, helping to provide the underprivileged and forgotten what they had a right to.
The kind of Filipino citizen and public servant that Dr. Romualdez was is the kind we seem to sorely lack. Yet these Filipinos are out there if only the appointing agency would be seriously make a search for them. They give utmost service, lead unselfish and industrious lives and can inspire by their example.
Inspiring was what Dr. Alberto Romualdez was, besides being everything else – accomplished, modest, public-service oriented, untouched by prevalent materialism. At the wake his classmate in medical school, Fr. Romeo Intengan, SJ said a prayer of thanksgiving was called for, for the gift of his unselfish life to his country. The kind of life in public officials that we sorely lack in contrast to the self-interested chicanery that is all too visible in our political leadership.
When we see and experience it we should be grateful. Thank God for the life of Dr. Alberto Romualdez