Women heroes-A A +A
By Ramon Dacawi
Friday, March 15, 2013
A STRONG personality with enduring political savvy once remarked the team I work with just has too many advocacies. Hardly a compliment, her view is a misnomer for we don’t have much of an advocacy. What we have is a feeble attempt to help kids plant and care for pine seedlings or explore the urban landscape they will inherit and manage, to link sick people with Samaritans out there, or to try to see inmates find expression in the printed word. Whatever has been achieved belongs to them, for it’s their work, not ours as we’re messengers.
In 1997, a development consultant asked how many women volunteers were working in the city’s Eco-walk children’s experiential environmental learning program. The issue never occurred to me and I admitted having never figured it out. She asked how many of the kids were female. It’s over my head, I replied. She advised I start counting. I promised I would but never did.
Groping for a way out, I offered the gender count was hardly of the moment. The volunteers work with each other because they see the need and fit, not because they are women or men. I offered the perspective that the statistical oversight might as well be due to gender neutrality than lack of gender sensitivity.
Some of my heroes happen to be women, not because of their gender but because of their actions that inspire. Dr. Julie Camdas-Cabato, the gentle lady doctor, is one of them. She’s one of the most respected and sought-after medical practitioners for her competence and sensitivity to the emotional and financial limitations of those she heals. For years, she’s been silently and doggedly into the environmental cause hands-on. She’s as self-effacing as Peter Fianza, perhaps the best city administrator Baguio ever had and now city councilor who happens to be a man, and an Ibaloy like Dr. Julie.
Two other women I knew also gave substance to that line from novelist Richard Paul Evans: “The greatest acts are done without plaque, audience or ceremony.”
Many years back, I got a call from Lorie Ramos, then a 43-year-old widow with the civilian staff of the male-dominated Philippine Military Academy. She said she read of the plight of journalist Noney Padilla-Marzan, who was then battling cancer, Lorie said she wanted to help. That led Conrad Marzan, Noney’s hubby, and me to Lorie’s rented home at Scout Barrio.
“I understand the difficulty Noney is in now,” she gently told Conrad after she handed her support. “I’m also into my second fight against cancer,” she added, perhaps to explain why she had her head wrapped with a handkerchief. Chemotherapy triggers hair loss.
She did lick breast cancer, or so she thought. She had placed the ordeal behind and had settled back into life’s daily routine when the pesky mutant cells reappeared, this time on the bone.
With cellular phones, the two women struck up a friendship to the end Lorrie later came to bid goodbye. In a voice reduced to a whisper by the spread of the disease, she said she had accepted the inevitable. She was going down to Quezon City to stay with her sister, who will continue raising her 10-year-old son.
Noney brushed aside her own need for fund support. She protested publication of her need for help to combat her affliction. She insisted that proceeds from a folk concert for her chemo treatment be channeled to kids in the cancer ward. She spent the last two years of her life attending to ailing toddlers and comforting parents of those who succumbed to the big C.
Two other women of substance, both christened Edna, never allowed their own pain from cancer to blind them to the suffering of other patients. One of them lived for years in Baguio and is now with her grand-children in Hawaii. The other is raising her daughter in Kentucky.
At the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, Dr. Asela Casem and her staff initiated the upgrading of its psychiatric department. In the Third World, psychiatry is a vital but overlooked area of the medical field where the trend remains concentrated on the more lucrative (and glamorous) areas such as surgery and internal medicine.
With support from those who understand the importance of her work, Asela was about to undergo expensive kidney transplant this month three years back. It was supposed to be her second transplant, to enable her to continue serving the only regional medical center North of Manila with an honest-go-goodness psychiatry department. Before the second renal failure, she had declined a high-paying job in her field of specializing in Australia, saying there’s much to do for psychiatric patients here.
Asela was about to leave for the National Kidney and Transplant Institute when she suffered a fatal stroke. It was March 13, 2010 and she was just 51.
For almost four decades now, Manang Cristy Dicang has been quietly doing the rounds in the city jail in a fulltime volunteer ministry. “There she would sit and chat with inmates; get to know their stories,” teacher Vicky Rico-Costina wrote. “She would indeed turn out to be a healing presence to inmates; someone they know would be there for them each passing day. Her idea of prison reform is not even large scale: “mapatino ko lang ang isa ditto kontento na ako”
There’s Maria Paz “Datsu” Feria Infante, a Spanish mestiza and daughter of a sugar magnate in Bacolog. She fell in love with Mike Molintas, a pony boy at the Wright Park and a scion of the Ibaloi clan at Gibraltar Barangay. Datsu turned her back to a life of wealth and ease to follow her heart. When Mike succumbed to heart disease, she gathered their four sons after the burial to ask where they wanted to grow up in – Baguio or Bacolod. They chose Baguio and, almost single-handedly, she raised them, including frail Nino Joshua, the youngest who was born with a serious heart defect.
Nino’s heart was mended with support from Samaritans inspired by his parents’ unusual love story and a widow’s might. The family remains intact, with Nino trying to multiply a cow an aunt bought him. He said it will be for his brothers’ children. It’s in keeping with a pact the siblings made with their mother after they lost their father – to never give up on each other.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on March 16, 2013.