The recipient of the first legally administered vaccine against COVID-19 in the Philippines, Philippine General Hospital director Dr. Gerardo Legaspi, addressed graduates of UP Diliman Sunday and talked about the Filipino word “kanlungan.”
There is no clear-cut English translation of the term, but many words carry a semblance of its essence: haven, sanctuary, harbor, hideout, refuge, shelter. His stay at the university, he said, molded him —he gained knowledge, had a taste of the real world and a glimpse of his future life in public service.
For the graduates, life at school— both face-to-face and online—shape the individuals they are and will be.
Legaspi, one of only 127 neurosurgeons in the Philippines today, also spoke about how PGH consistently strives to live up to its challenge to provide health care to Filipinos despite inadequacies in funding. The hospital’s role as a referral center in the fight against COVID-19, despite the initial misgivings and objections of those unsure it had the capability to be so, is a testament to that continuous effort.
To be sure, the health care system is far from perfect. Still, it is people that remain the best assets in health care. Legaspi cited the Herculean efforts of those who rushed to save 400 infants from a burning building, or those who provide comfort to patients dying of COVID-19 in place of their families who are not allowed to visit them.
On a larger scale, the country itself is fragmented; it’s a place where two worlds exist. There is the world of the few with ample resources, and another of the poor. The task at hand is to bridge the gap between these two worlds, so that the patient at the charity ward would have the same excellent chance at treatment and recovery as the one able to afford a stay at a private hospital. In the end, Legaspi exhorted the graduates to work toward the development of our nation in big and little ways.
Then again, the PGH director’s words could speak to all other Filipinos, whether they had the opportunity to get a university education or not. The state of our nation has been difficult and daunting even before this pandemic. COVID-19 served only to expose the weaknesses, widen the gaps and magnify the inequities.
Our leader will speak to us this afternoon. While we can expect him to touch on a few things, there are no guarantees that he would pick the most important issues, speak logically and evenly like a statesman, and present an accurate picture of our state.
Whatever transpires today, though, should not change the realities of which we are acutely aware. Filipinos who love our country, despite its imperfections will find ways—even if it is difficult and frustrating—to cooperate and empathize with others, to be critical of each other while still being respectful, to be constructive, to encourage discourse, and to find common ground so that there is only “we” instead of a vicious and simplistic “us versus them.”