THE Provincial Government did well in containing the outbreak of diarrhea in Barangay Calmante in Tudela, one of the four municipalities in the Camotes group of islands. The situation could have gotten worse considering geography and the town’s lack of health facilities.

Tudela, the birthplace of my father, used to have a hospital. That was when a man of intelligence and heroic bent was parish priest of the town’s Immaculate Conception parish. Fr. Joseph Wiertz, Padre Jose to the parishioners, wasn’t even a Filipino, but he had the interest of the town folks at heart.

The Tudela Community Medical Center (now reduced to a doctor-less clinic) once stood as proof that if a leader has the will, he will eventually find a way to answer people’s needs.

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In the ‘80s, the family of poblacion resident Hipolito Fernandez got ill after eating a poisonous crab called “kudlongon.” Because Tudela is in an island, there was no way that an emergency like that could be responded to satisfactorily. Patients either had to be transported to a health facility in San Francisco town more than 10 kilometers away or brought to mainland Cebu through treacherous seas.

Hipolito, his daughter Nancy and a nephew died. That pushed the priest to act, getting the help of a retired doctor and going on a solicitation binge that resulted in the setting up of a 20-bed “hospital” that had donated and purchased equipment like an x-ray machine.

Looking back, the effort looks foolhardy. A hospital needs personnel and personnel need salaries. In short, the daily operation of a medical facility eats up lots of money that has to be replenished from either hospital earnings (patients’ fees primarily) or subsidy. But even if Wiertz’s project failed, his attempt to answer a people’s basic need was admirable.

Tudela is a fifth-class municipality and its revenues could barely pay for the town hall’s maintenance and other operating expenses. The tendency of officials, therefore, is to wallow in self-pity or to raise their hand in surrender when pushed to answer basic needs, like health services, of their constituents.

Funds lack has even become more telling with the intensification of the exportation of Filipino workers overseas. Young doctors prefer to work abroad than set up base in an island-located and economically backward town. The last doctor Tudela had was a retiree. But even retired doctors willing to reside in Tudela are already hard to come by.

Residents of Calmante should therefore thank their lucky stars that diarrhea and not a more insidious illness like cholera broke out in their place. It would have been very difficult for the Ricardo Maningo Memorial Hospital in San Francisco to treat the patients, forcing authorities to transport them to Cebu City.

Padre Jose died on Nov. 7, 1988 after battling a serious brain illness. He had wanted to be buried in Tudela and even had his grave readied at the town cemetery. He did not get his wish because his family decided to bury him in their home place in Holland.

But if you go to Tudela, you’ll see there the imposing National Food Authority bodega. Wiertz pushed for its establishment, noting the danger of grains supply in Camotes being cut off because of bad weather. He had a generator light up the poblacion at night when the Camotes Electric Cooperative was still non-existent. He set up a high school, the Immaculate Conception Institute.

I am writing about Wiertz because the outbreak of diarrhea in Tudela reminded me that somewhere in that town’s past, a man had already imagined a situation like this happening and was determined enough to prepare an answer to it.

(khanwens@yahoo.com/ my blog: cebuano.wordpress.com)