A dash of Flavier humor

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

THE trouble with interspersing humor with message is your listeners will remember the joke and tend to forget the message.

Dr. Juan Flavier, the beloved giant communicator of humor and message, wit and wisdom, never fell into the trap lesser mortals often fall into to muddle the substance they try to convey. As health secretary, the diminutive Baguio boy used humor to fortify his messages, enabling him to rally a nation to pursue promotionally cost-effective programs what are now classic yardsticks of effective health governance thrusts that, until now, are household bywords:

"Oplan Alis Disease", "Sangkap Pinoy", "Yosi Kadiri", "FVR" (Fortified Vitamin Rice), "Kontra Cholera" and "Stop TB".


Amidst all the honors these life-saving preventive medicine programs received, it was his humor-laden gift of gab and humility that endeared him to millions.

“Wala po akong kinalaman sa mga programang sinasabi n’yo (I’m not privy to these programs you’re talking about),” he bantered in his response for co-winners in the 1995 awards night of the Public Relations Organization of the Philippines which recognized “Alis Disease” as tops among that year’s effective government-initiated communications programs.

“Ang may kasalanan po ay ang mga barangay, Rotary, Lions, Tigers., Elephants……,” he said to pay tribute to the various groups who responded to his rally for community support to the vital health programs his team conceptualized and led.

Standing four-eleven, he stood tall that evening beside then Senator Francisco “Kit” Tatad, the serious-minded guest speaker who was then vocal against the health department’s push for condoms in its family planning advocacy and AIDS prevention program.

Amidst the controversy on condom distribution, Flavier returned to Baguio to recharge his batteries. He proceeded to City Hall and presented his predicament to the mayor, swearing he’d rather be up here where he grew up in than return to Metro-Manila where “I was condommed without trial”.

His inclination to humor as a means of defusing tension must have been equated by a somber-sounding politician who, in response to moves to endorse Flavier as a presidential candidate, remarked that it would be foolhardy to consider a joker for the highest political position in the land.

Flavier took the remark almost seriously, too. He admitted he was ready to juxtapose his track record in public and community service beside those of his critic for the people to judge and compare who was more “presidentiable”.

As two-term senator of the land, he authored or sponsored landmark pieces of legislation: the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), Traditional Medicine Law, the Poverty Alleviation Law which created the National Anti-Poverty Commission. the E-Commerce Law, Clean Air Act, Anti-Money Laundering Act, Barangay Micro-Business Enterprise, National Service Training Program for Tertiary Students, Dangerous Drugs Act, Plant Variety Protection Act, Philippine Nursing Act of 2002 and the Tobacco Regulation Act.

While his sense of humor might not have been fully captured in the minutes of the legislative deliberations and never included in the provisions of such sober laws, his spontaneous one-liners now and then reminded his peers to tone down, sober up and let the laughter and optimism he shared relieve them from the heated debates sparked early on by a bill so bold and radical like the IPRA.

To serve well, he prepared early and long, not content with his natural brilliance that showed in his academic records. He grew up in Baguio where he studied at the Quezon Elementary School and Baguio City National High School, finished Bachelor of Science in Education, Bachelor of Arts in Natural Sciences and Master and Doctor of Education from the University of Baguio, law at the Baguio Coilleges Foundation. Doctor of Medicine from the University of the Philippines and Master in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University.

Later on, while gracing the inauguration of one of several buildings of the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center erected with his countrywide development fund as senator, he underscored in his speech that life is an experience in continuing education. True enough, life’s lessons he recorded in “Doctor to the Barrios”, a three-volume book of parables he authored based on his years of rural service in the villages of Nueva Ecija and Cavite.

But what stuck to the minds of the BGHMC staff and guests at the blessing of the psychiatry building was the first part of his speech.

“This is the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen,” he opened up, and was met with thunderous applause. As the clapping toned down, he delivered the clincher: “I remember that’s what I also said when I attended the inauguration of a similar building in Tarlac.”

As senator, he channeled most of his fund allocation to Baguio, particularly for the building expansion and upgrading of the BGHMC, the Baguio City National High School and the Baguio Health Center.

In last Monday’s flag ceremony in front of the City Hall where the colors were raised to half-mast, Mayor Mauricio Domogan disclosed Dr. Flavier had told him he concentrated his congressional allocation for Baguio because he was sure the project fund would be put to good use in his own city.

(The day before, the mayor led a delegation of Baguio residents in paying tribute to the city’s illustrious son during the wake at the University of the Philippines in Diliman).

Yet Flavier was not as trusting when he was called to speak during a campaign rally of his senatorial team at the Malcolm Square. With pride, the master of ceremonies introduced Flavier as one among us, a full-blooded Baguio boy who grew up here.

“Ulbod dayta nangipakaammo kaniak (The one who introduced me is not telling the truth),” Flavier boomed when it was his turn. “Taga-Baguio ak nga agpayso ngem kitaen yo man no dimmakkelak a kas imbaga na! (It’s true that I’m from Baguio but see if I grew as he said!).”

During a press conference at the BGHMC, Dr. Flavier told local media his team had concocted a nutritious product for Filipinos they labeled “Fortified Vitamin Rice or “FVR”.

He immediately denied insinuations the acronym stood for President Ramos’ initials or for “Fortified Flavier Rice”. That suspicion, he clarified, was closer to home in the markings on a condom his team had also developed.

He said the unopened prophylactic reveals the letters FVR like a brand. Stretched out, he explained as he motioned with his hands, the thing reads “Flavier”.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on November 08, 2014.


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