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Dr. Jose Ritzi M. Tiongco
by Bud Omar, PHI '08B
Briefly describe your experiences as a UP medicine student.
Ting Tiongco: I was a renegade, still am.
When Brod Ting Tiongco assumed editorship of the college’s student publication back during his clerkship year, he changed the name of the newsletter into its current name (UP Medics) and he did not just report the news, he made news.
Exasperated of the perceived gap “between the preaching of medicine in the college and the practice of it” in the hospital (“proper garbage disposal was taught while rotten placentas were thrown under the water tower in the hospital ”), he organized a series of dialogues between the Dean of the college and the PGH Director to address exactly these issues. And though nothing more than promises came out of the meetings, he published the proceedings in his first issue along with a strongly-worded editorial that soon caught the attention of the UP community and in particular UP Institute of Public Hygiene Dean Dr. Victor Valenzuela. He was told of the dysfunctional relationship between the college and the hospital that probably accounted for much of the gross lapses he observed, i.e., the hospital was Congress-controlled even while it was officially handed over to UP administration a decade back. Urgently then, he asked for an audience with UP President Salvador Lopez to request that UP assume full responsibility over PGH, that UP handle PGH budget instead of Congress and that PGH directors be appointed according to academic requirements set by UP and not according to the whims of politicians. When after six months, no action at all seemed to be taken by the administration even when an investigating committee was already supposedly organized to look into the matter, he led preparations for a hospital strike in PGH, the first ever in the world.
September 1, 1970 is a most historic date. Due much to his efforts, students from UP Diliman and the UP College of Medicine, along with PGH nurses and employees, patients and their relatives, marched from the UP Diliman campus down Quezon Boulevard, Quiapo and Taft Avenue into the PGH grounds. He recalls that at the picket line, not even the rain and the flood could disperse the crowd that oddly, even seemed to swell up. As media came and patients, nurses and doctors aired their grievances, Congress finally gave in and passed a bill handing over the PGH budget to UP. Then President Marcos himself fired the hospital director as a new UP-appointed director took office along with a more academic and competent management staff.
Of the experience, Brod Ting writes, “We called off the strike and melted back into the work staff, happy that things were going to be better and hoping that this would be a template for collective action on matters that were previously thought to be hopeless and beyond the efforts of ordinary people who passed through the corridors of PGH in their own time in history.”
But certainly his maverick ways was not lost on him through the years. During the last year of his surgical residency training, he took up another cause that had him butting heads with his Department Chairman and yet again, the hospital director. As president of the PGH Physician’s Association, he lobbied to allow the more senior residents in PGH limited and supervised private practice during their last year of training to prepare them to treating paying patients and “to provide some financial support for their families after their salaries ceased.” His aim was to provide some incentive for trainees who wanted to stay in the country. Even when he exhausted all options to convince the indignant PGH director, this was a lost cause. When the director argued that the idea was immoral, Ting replied that there was nothing “more abusive and immoral in the PGH than the fact that the majority of the residents trained and honed their skills on poor Filipino patients but used them to advantage on rich American patients later.”
As he relates, the Martial Law era was a time when majority of PGH trainees left the politically unstable Philippines for abroad (“The last year of training in Surgery was spent writing flurries of applications for internship/residency to good surgical training programs in USA”). It is thus a testament to his strong character that after training he decided not only to stay in the country but also to go back to his native Mindanao. In fact, his decision to take up surgery was in part due to his desire to address what was desperately needed in his hometown. “You cannot treat stab wounds with aspirin; or you cannot treat gunshot wounds in nine year old kids with kidneys hanging out blown off by M14 bullets, with cough syrup. I knew where I was going.”
He has been serving the people of Davao for more than thirty years now. In 1976, as an unpaid consultant at the Surgical Department of the Davao Medical Center, he trained surgical residents in Davao and Tagum and encouraged them to stay in their locale. In 1979, he pursued further training in Neurosurgery at the University of Vienna; only to return to head the Department of Surgery at the Davao Medical Center.
In 1990, he along with others set up the first cooperative hospitals in Davao City and Tagum, Davao Province. In his efforts, he aims to not only cure the sick poor but also the sick health system in place in the country. “We are in a schizoid situation wherein Western medicine is used in an Eastern setting.” He says while Western medicine looks at illness as a personal event (“suffering looked at under a microscope”), Filipinos and Asians look at health as a social event. Thus, he argues that health care delivery must be intrinsically related to communities. Hospitals must not be built like “bazaars and malls where people get what they can afford; institutions must be run and patronized by communities according to their need.” It is in this light that his cooperative hospitals were conceptualized. Pooling the health expenses of the poor, the cooperative hospital is able to provide health care at a much more affordable cost by buying medicines and supplies in bulk. Though it operates as a business enterprise, it is owned by both health care practitioners and the ordinary members of the community. Today, over fifty such hospitals have been established all over the country.
In 2007, he was conferred the Ozanam Award by the Ateneo de Manila University (where he took up his premed course) for his initiatives to bring to the poor “the Health and Humanity they deserve” through the cooperative hospitals he has helped set up. Likewise, the Ateneo de Davao University (where he had his primary and secondary education) conferred on him the Dr. Jess and Trining dela Paz Award for his advocacies.
Brod Ting also writes a regular column for Mindanews. He has written two books, “Child of the Sun Returning” and “Surgeon Do Not Cry.” In the latter, Brod Ting, still the renegade, is nonchalant in his criticism of the institutions of UP and PGH.
Throughout his life, Brod Ting dissented when the need arose, moved in the face of apathy, paved the way for the realization of many of his strong-held convictions and as he puts it, “raised hell” all along the way.