by Dr. Mae Dolendo
When Mayor Rody Duterte first visited House of Hope in 2007 to do the ribbon cutting for the newly renovated facility, our then Davao Medical Center Chief was skeptical he would really come.
Why should he, when he skipped the inauguration of other huge and more important infrastructures within the hospital compound.
But such is the unpredictability of Mayor Rody. He was at his happiest when he was giving out ice cream and gifts to the children; mingling and conversing with their parents – asking where they come from, what they do for a living against the background of the rickety old dorm we spruced up and called our home.
Since then, the children with cancer at what is currently Southern Philippines Medical Center, a public hospital in Davao City occupied a special place in his heart. He would visit on all special occasions – his birthday, Christmas, Survivors Day, once, even Valentine’s Day. He set out to love and spoil the children within his means, and that of his friends.
His generosity to the poor, the sick, the children and elderly knows no bounds. The teens will get epads and game gadgets; the younger ones DVD players to watch their favorite cartoons and movies. He installed flat screen televisions and DVD players in the rooms because he thought they get so bored lying there for days.
When he gives gifts, he would personally unwrap them and teach the kids how the toys work. Woe the staff who prepares a gift that does not work or had the battery installed. He would sit with the teens and actually have conversations with them; giving words of encouragement in his usual humorous repartee’.
No request is too small or too big for him. A child who wanted a yellow electric fan; the child who wished for a particular gown she saw on TV got their wishes within the day. He would give the teens helicopter rides, even spend time at the beach with them. Almost all our patients come from indigent families and these are lifetime experiences for them. Mayor Rody believes, the poor should have the best from government.
He was particularly involved with one of our teen boys who lost his leg to bone cancer. He went to great lengths for this boy, even asking a staff to research the latest treatment regimens which he sent to me. I told him the total cost of the experimental treatment is 7million pesos with no guarantee of cure. He did not give up. When the boy was in remission, he sponsored his studies including two other teen survivors.
He gave them his own house in Margarita Village to live, providing all necessary support. When the teen passed away, he was sad but had no regrets investing so much emotions and support to the teen. He wanted him to have the best chances. The two other teens are still attending school and are among our longest survivors. They are not even from Davao City.
Over the years, we have seen many children survive child cancer in Mindanao and even if we cannot give him all the credit, his role in this success is certainly significant.
He is his most vulnerable self when he is with the children – laughing out loud when he asked a small girl “Kinsa ko?” And she replied “Si Angkol”! Once, after a particular emotional conversation with a dying teen, he stood in the corner warding off tears, alone with his emotions.
This man has seen so much poverty, so much suffering and I can understand his anger; his desire to change things at great personal sacrifice. I was one of those reluctant for him to run for the presidency. Because I know that national politics will try to destroy this sincere public servant, this courageous and compassionate man.
I have reservations sharing these stories because I know he never wanted recognition. When he visits our ward he would leave media at the foot of the stairs, saying our place is off limits.
But I cannot in all sincerity, allow our country to lose the chance to choose a leader whose heart is with the Filipino people. Who will do what is right, or die trying.
Our prayers will always be for him, both of us who are here on earth and the children he has helped who have gone on to heaven. We pray that he will be successful in his task and that he will be given the necessary blessings, guidance and protection.