Category Archives: Profile

A Mom’s Unsung Lullaby

A true story.

From time to time, Myra, an executive in a public relations firm, would light a candle and say a prayer for the baby she had killed, the one who will never hear the lullaby because she aborted the child.

“Pinalaki ako ng nanay at mga kamag-anak ko na may takot sa Diyos. Pero kapag dumating pala ang pagkakataon na kailangan mong mamili between your virtue and your happiness, hindi mo masasabing malinis ka o magiging malinis ka all your life,” Myra said as she bared a painful facet of her life.

The thought of aborting the throbbing life inside her womb was far from Myra’s mind until her boyfriend threatened to end the blossoming relationship between them if she persisted on keeping her baby.

It was 1991, and Myra was 21 then and new in the PR firm after graduating from a journalism course. It was fear that made her take what she describes as the turning point in her life.

Still, it took a month for her to decide whether to keep or abort the two-month-old life she was carrying.

“Hindi ako makakain, nahihirapan akong makatulog, halos hindi na nga ako makapagtrabaho, ang tagal kong pinag-isipan kung susundin ko ang boyfriend ko,” she recounted.

She was too afraid to be dumped by the man — she only identified him as “Mario” — whom she thought would marry her someday, and of the responsibility that goes with raising a child alone.

“Wala akong option noon eh,” she said, “natatakot akong iwanan ng boyfriend ko. I was just starting with my career in public relations, hindi ko ma-forsee ang sarili ko na maging single parent kagaya ng nanay ko.”

Myra was trembling when she and Mario arrived at the abortionist’s house-cum-clinic somewhere in Tondo, Manila, one morning sometime in November 1991.

(omitted a graphic description here)

After about an hour, Myra said, she emerged from the small room and felt as if nothing had happened.

“Pinipilit ko na paniwalain ang sarili ko na okay na ang lahat. Tapos na wala na kaming problema ni Mario. Sabi ko sa sarili ko, bata pa naman ako at puwede pa kaming magka-baby kapag pareho na kaming handa,” she said.

Although tormented by guilt and misgivings, Myra decided to live with Mario without the sacrament of marriage for four years. But she promised herself not to have another abortion.

Myra admitted doing her tamer version of abortion for three or four times within the course of her relationship with Mario. But she had lost her peace of mind. Her conscience bothered her when she was alone. She felt so depressed that almost always broke down.

Her emotional upheaval slowly took its toll on the relationship she had once valued over the life of her first child.

“Indirectly, nagkaroon ng effect sa akin ang pagpapa-abort ko. Kapag nag-aaway kami, naiisip ko na he’s not worth my sacrifices. Lalo akong nade-depress,” said Myra, who finally found the will to severe her relationship with Mario.

After that harrowing experience, Myra is now a picture of a contented and happy woman. She is thankful that she did not end up marrying her former boyfriend.

“Mabuti na nga na hindi kami nagkatuluyan, baka hanggang ngayon wala pa akong anak, hindi pa ako kasal at miserable pa rin ang buhay ko sa piling niya,” she said.

A year after she broke up with Mario, she met the man who would marry her and give her two beautiful daughters. But the physical and emotional scars from the abortion will always remain to remind her of her indiscretion.

“Kung itinuloy ko ‘yung bata, 10 years old na ngayon ‘yun. Ipinagdarasal ko na lang ang kaluluwa niya, at ibinubuhos ko ang pagmamahal na ipinagkait ko sa kanya sa mga anak ko ngayon,” Myra said.

Written by yours truly for People’s Tonight (Feb. 20, 2002)

A mama’s dying wish

mom and child

Four out of 10 Filipinos positive for the HIV virus that causes AIDS are women, infected mostly through sex with males. Photo credit: Arztsamui – FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As Angeline slowly closed her eyes and breathed her last, she whispered the names of her two children. They were the only reasons why she desired to live long, but her frail body was no match to the AIDS virus that has gradually eaten her life away.

Angeline (real name withheld) succumbed to cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection. It is one of the many opportunistic infections affecting an individual whose immune system has been wasted by the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

CMV is a kind of herpes virus which usually produces very mild symptoms in an infected person but may cause severe nerve damage in people with weakened immune systems and in newborn babies.

Angeline met her painful death at the HIV ward of a government hospital in Manila three months ago (please note that I wrote this article in May 8, 2005).

In our interview with her last December, the 36-year-old native of Samar expressed her wish to be reunited with her two teenage children who were in the province with her paternal aunt.

“Huli kong nakita ang mga anak ko noong isang taon (2003), bago ako na-confine sa San Lazaro. Nagkahiwalay kami 5 pa lang ang panganay ko at three years old naman ang bunso. Nagkikita lang kami kung may okasyon, minsan ay hindi pa.

“Ang sabi lang nila sa akin ay magpagaling daw ako. Miss na miss ko na sila. Kung saka-sakali at manumbalik ang lakas ko at makapagtrabaho muli, gusto ko na magkasama-sama kami uli ng mga anak ko…”

Angeline failed to take her medicine because it was costly. “Kapag sobrang mahal ang gamot, minsan hindi rin ako nakakainom, o kaya humihingi ako ng tulong sa social worker. Hindi ko naman puwedeng asahan ang mga kapatid ko dahil may pamilya na rin sila at hirap din sa buhay,” said Angeline, frequently coughing in between sentences.

Angeline did not receive anti-retroviral (ARV) medicines when she was alive. ARVs slow down the AIDS virus from destroying the patient’s immune system.

Awaiting Death

Her friend Bobby Ruiz, of the Positive Action Foundation of the Philippines (PAFPI), told People’s Tonight in an interview yesterday that Angeline could have lived a little longer if only there were enough medicines to treat her CMV.

“Mako-control pa dapat ang CMV niya, pero walang gamot na available sa hospital dahil mahal. Kung magkaroon man ng stock, hindi rin kumpleto. Wala naman resources si Angeline para masuportahan ang medicines niya,” he said.

A drug store estimates that the generic medicine Ganciclovir vial used in treating CMV costs more than P2,000, administered for two weeks and even up to 21 days.

Ruiz claimed that indigent HIV patients confined in San Lazaro Hospital virtually await their death.

“Binibigyan sila ng reseta, ‘heto bilhin ninyo, ipasok ninyo sa Philippines Charity Sweepstakes Office, kung wala, wala tayong magagawa.’ Minsan may taning na, kailangan nang mainom ang gamot.

“Wait lang ang mga doctor, wait lang ang pamilya pati na ang pasyente hanggang sa mamatay sila.

“Masakit sa amin dahil nakikita naming ang kamatayan nila. Hindi alam ng pasyente na naghihintay sila saw ala. Kaya gumagawa kami ng paraan hanggang sa abot ng aming makakaya,” he said.

Her story

Angeline was widowed twice. She married at 16 due to poverty. Her second husband, a former worker in Hong Kong, died of AIDS complications four years ago.

Until his death in 2001, Angeline had no idea that her husband Rafael (not his real name) had HIV infection. It was the only time she learned about the dreaded HIV/AIDS. She got the infection from Rafael.

“Nagsama kami noong 1997. Alam niyang may sakit siya, pero hindi niya sinabi sa akin. Dati siyang OFW, naglilinis ng building. Nakuha naman niya ang virus sa una niyang asawa na nakilala niya sa Hong Kong.

“Namatay ang asawa niya sa AIDS complications sa San Lazaro. Pero ang sinabi niyang dahilan ng pagkamatay nito ay hepatitis,” said Angeline, who had worked as babysitter since she was 15.

Angeline, who also sold chili in Divisoria to support herself and the needs of her two younger siblings in the early 1980s, said that she didn’t have any idea that Rafael was ill.

“Wala akong nakitang symptoms sa kanya,” she said. “Kaya nang sabihin ng parents niya na may AIDS siya, ayaw kong pang maniwala, cardiac arrest kasi nakalagay sa death certificate niya.”

Nightmare

Angeline’s worst nightmare came in 2003 when her health began to fail. She was taken to San Lazaro Hospital for fever and profuse diarrhea. Further tests conducted on her revealed that she was positive for HIV.

“Magalit man ako kay Rafael wala na rin akong magagawa, nangyari na,” Angeline pointed out, tears falling down her cheeks.

The last time we talked to Angeline, she made an appeal for compassion: “Sana may tumulong man lang sa amin para makabili ng gamot. Nais pa rin naming mabuhay ng matagal at makapagtrabaho muli…”

Up to the last moment in her life, Angeline was hoping that she would be given the necessary medicine to relieve her pain.

“Si Angeline na walang mauwian, naghihintay na lang ng kamatayan niya. Inabot rin siya ng mahigit isang taon…Wala siyang pambayad ng hospital, eh. Ang mga katulad ni Angeline walang choice, kaya hindi siya makapagreklamo,” Ruiz said.

Angeline’s two children who were clueless of their mother’s cause of death didn’t make it to her burial.
There are more mothers — and father — with AIDS waiting for medical assistance, hoping and fighting to survive.  – Miriam V. Torrecampo (People’s Tonight, May 8, 2005)

Dr. Romeo Bituin: Doctor of Calamities

I just had to share this story I wrote (for People’s Tonight) about a doctor’s experiences during a medical mission after a typhoon hit Quezon Province in 2004.

FROM the 1990 killer earthquake in Baguio, Rizal Day Bombing in Manila to the aftermath of Typhoons “Winnie” and “Yoyong” in Quezon Province, Dr. Romeo Bituin has been there to help the dying and survivors of calamities.

The 47-year-old coordinator of Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital to the Health Emergency Management Staff (HEMS) of the Department of Health, Dr. Bituin or simply “Starsky” to colleagues, has always felt the need to be in places where disasters took place.

“Hindi ko alam kung bakit dinadala ako ng Diyos kung saan may disaster,” Bituin initially told People’s Tonight.

To the man who has been in the medical profession for more than two decades now, no special occasion would delay the call of duty, not even his birthday.

So in the morning of Dec. 4, even before he could plan things for his 47th birthday, Bituin was flying with two male nurses and a utility personnel to the typhoon-ravaged areas of Quezon on board a military chopper to bring medicine and treat evacuees from several affected barangays in Infanta.

“When we left for Quezon, walang nakakaalam na birthday ko. Nagspend ako for the first time ng birthday ko sa disaster area. Ang sabi nga ni Dr. (Carmencita) Banatin, chief of HEMS,’ang swerte mo…ang dami mong natulungan sa birthday mo’,” the teary-eyed anesthesiologist said.

“Sometimes parang naging emotional ka rin doon (Infanta, Quezon)… masuwerte tayong mga taga- Manila hindi natin naranasan ang ganon pero nagrereklamo tayo sa baha lang. Baha lang ‘yon pwede kang lumangoy…sa mud hindi ka makakalangoy…mamamatay talaga ang tao,” he said while trying to control his emotions.

Bituin and his three companions were the first group of medical personnel deployed by the DOH at the height of typhoon “Yoyong” in Quezon.

“From Camp Gen. Nakar inairlift kami papuntang Infanta. It was one of the hardest hit ng typhoon. At least 29 out of 36 barangays in Infanta were affected. Sa Gen. Nakar at Real, may portions of road na pwedeng daanan, may ac cessible road na pwedeng dumaan ang tricycle. Sa Infanta wala, ang putik hanggang tuhod. Paglapag ng chopper, iba na ang amoy ng paligid. Masangsang… malansa… normal na sangsang ng patay. Marami raw na buried sa mud pero hindi nila alam kung saan,” said Bituin as he described the place.

Barefooted evacuees ran agog to the waiting helicopter for safety. But patients needing urgent medical attention were given priority to be airlifted to evacuation sites.

Bituin, being the leader of the four-man team, requested military personnel to secure the gym where they put up the makeshift treatment center and where team from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) handed out relief goods. Barangay officials assisted the group in listing down patients with priority needs.

The medical team from DOH provided antibiotics, anti-venom, anti-tetanus, IV fluids to patients needing them.

For four days, Dr. Bituin’s group attended to children who are severely dehydrated, patients with loose bowel movement caused by acute gastroenteritis due to lack of potable water supply, persons with punctured wound, lacerated wound in the eye and head, trauma, fractures, dog bites and snake bites.

“Ang mga evacuees kung ano ‘yung damit na suot nila nang marescue sila, ‘yun pa rin ‘yung suot-suot nila habang nagpapagamot sila,” Bituin recounted as he shook his head in dismay. “Siguro ang importante sa ngayon kung paano sila mabubuhay, ‘yung hindi sila magkakasakit.”

Bituin’s group also managed to help local hospital personnel run the lone health facility in the area, which is about a kilometer away from the gym near the Poblacion. The groups make do with available hospital equipments left of the flood aftermath. The nurses were able to save only a handful gadget since they primarily move the patients to higher portion of the hospital.

The hospital also served said as their place of rest at night.

“Main mission namin kung paano mapapatakbo uli ang hospital. Ang Infanta lang ang may district hospital. During normal times before the disaster sa Infanta dinadala ang mga pasyente coming from Real and Gen. Nakar. Walang electricity at tubig sa hospital. Walang linen. There was no communication at all in the area,” Bituin recalled.

“Mahirap din ang paglalakad sa municipality proper. Walang means of transportation. Ang mahirap doon may mga equipment ka pang dala at pasyente na kailangang i-evacuate to safer ground,” he said.

Bituin and the nurses settled with their meager food provision and sometimes relief foods given by evacuees themselves.

“For four days wala kaming lunch, we find time to eat late lunch and early dinner at every 5 p.m. Hindi ka makakaramdam ng gutom dahil ang gusto mo makapunta ka agad sa pupuntahan mong lugar. The city mayor was kind enough to assist us during our mission in Infanta,” he said.

Bituin, who granted the interview, before the emergency meeting of HEMS coordinators held at the East Avenue Medical Center last Friday, said that epidemic was indeed looming in the affected areas as he observed the lack of potable water supply and proper excreta disposal for both human and solid waste.

“Nang umalis kami marami na ang nagcocomplain ng acute gastroenteritis, matanda at mga bata,” he said.

The former military doctor said that as of last week two more response teams from the DOH composed of epidemiologists and sanitary engineers arrived in Quezon to help.

“Kumpleto na ang mga tao na nagsusurveillance ng mga sakit doon,” Bituin said.

The medicine graduate at the Perpetual Help College in Binan, Laguna, said that aside from medicine and food supplies, survivors need psychological help from experts.

“Kawawa ang mga tao doon, naglalakad sila ng nakatungo. May psychological impact sa kanila ang mga pangyayari. Kailangan nilang ma-debrief. We already sent people from the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) para iaddress ang depression at anxiety ng mga tao. Lalo na kung umuulan ng malakas…’yung mga tao takot na takot kasi baka bumaha daw ulit, ganun na ganon daw ang nangyari bago magkalandslide,” he said.

Bituin, who had disaster management trainings in the United Kingdom and the United States in 2001 and 2002 respectively, said that each person who survived the landslide and flood had harrowing experience to share.

“Nagtulungan sila,” referring to survivors, “‘Yung iba hinigit nila sa baha mula sa bubong ng bahay. Kahit hindi nila kakilala tinutulungan nila. Kaya marami rin sa kanila ang nakasurvive hindi kagaya sa Ormoc. Karamihan kasi ng bahay sa Ormoc noon ay gawa sa light materials. Sa Quezon, karamihan ng bahay ay may second floor kaya nakaakyat ang iba sa bubong ng bahay,” he noted.

The doctor from Fabella Hospital also shared what he learned from emergency management.

“Presence of mind is important. Ang unang isesave mo ay buhay hindi gamit. Dapat alam ng mga tao kung ano ang mga gagawin in times of natural calamities. May areas na dapat kung saan magkikita sa oras ng emergency. Dapat may mga drills, exercises for any kind of event gaya ng Iindo!, baha at landslides. Time is important… kailangan mabilisan,” he said.

For fellow medical workers in the same line of mission, Bituin has this advise: “Ang pinakaimportante huwag silang makalimot magdasal… ‘yung pakikipagkapwa-tao especially during these times. Dapat marunong kang makisama sa tao. Hindi lang para makiemphatize, kailangan may ginagawa ka rin.”

He further said, “Personnally, na-enhance ng experience ko sa Quezon ang kahalagahan ng pakikipagkapwa-tao. For every disaster or incident na napuntahan ko, there is a new experience, new lesson na nakakapagpadagdag sa wisdom mo. Although sometimes, kapag naaalala ko ‘yung mga nakita ko doon, nagiging emotional ako. Hindi ko maiwasan ang maluha para sa mga nasalanta sa Quezon.”

When asked if he would go back to Infanta for another medical assignment, Bituin simply smiled and said, “I’m planning to go back there next week. I’ll show the people there I’m true to my words. Gusto kong makita na masaya na uli sila , hindi na umiiyak, hindi na depressed.” – Miriam V. Torrecampo

December 26, 2004