BONTOC, Mountain Province – They bring health care under challenging circumstances, whether it be in a conflict, natural disaster or resource poor settings. In the small and large circles that they move in, they have rendered time, effort, and a part of their life in meaningful contribution on health and being an inspiration to many. These are the 2016 Bayani ng Kalusugan awardees of the national government through the Department of Health (DOH).
A program of the Aquino administration, the award distinguishes people who rise above the rest to achieve. It also motivates people towards similar achievements in their excellence in works, commitment and innovation and leadership.
It is awe-inspiring to know that one of the 15 individuals and five organizations who was chosen from the roll of nominees around the country is from Mountain Province in the Cordillera region. She is Dr. Penelope A. Domogo, the Provincial Health Officer I of the Provincial Government of Mountain Province. Doc Pen, as she is fondly called devoted 35 years of her career bringing health services and being a champion for health among her “kailyans,” the people of Mountain Province.
She started public service after passing the physician’s board examination in 1980. Despite the offers and opportunities given for her to work outside Mountain Province and even overseas, it was never difficult for her to decide to stay. As a loving and caring mother and a wife, she chose not to be apart from her family. As dedicated health servant, she chose to serve her own kailyans.
She spent a few months in Besao, her hometown as the Rural Health Physician in 1981 and transferred to Bontoc Rural Health Unit (RHU) as the municipal health officer in the same year. Doc Pen recalls walking along the mountain trails to reach the remote barangays of Bontoc. She narrated that they conducted house to house visits and went to all schools for check-ups. They brought medicines to the community and trained Barangay Health Workers (BHWs).
With the assistance of the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF), she established the Health Scouts Program, an innovative program to develop children and youth as models and partners for health. The DOH recognized her leadership and dedicated service at the Bontoc RHU that she was awarded with the Grand Achiever for Health in 1992. In the same year, she received the Most Outstanding Rural Health Physician Award from the Eusebio S. Garcia. She was also awarded by the UP Medicine Class ’36 Foundation, Inc. in 1994. In 1997, the Health Scouts Program bagged the bronze award from the DOH for showing an example of “effective, efficient and equitable approaches in health care.”
In 2000, in partnership with the Women’s Health and Safe Motherhood Program, she organized community health teams (CHTs) and researched on rediscovering indigenous health practices in Bontoc.
In June 2003, Doc Pen decided to join the provincial government and was appointed as Provincial Health Officer I. As chief of the technical section of the Provincial Health Office, she encouraged the technical staff to strive for excellence and compassion in public service.
With her leadership, the various program coordinators developed monitoring tools including the CHT score card. This score card is use to evaluate CHTs in the areas of governance, service delivery, health financing and health regulations to empower the team, institute local health reforms and spur the attainment of universal health care at the barangay level. She believes that a healthy nation starts with healthy barangays.
Doc Pen also initiated the recognition of good performance at the municipal and barangay level which inspires the municipalities and barangays to strive for best health outcomes. Apart from this, she worked closely with the Department of Education (DepEd), especially with the school nurses for the expansion of the Health Scouts Program. The health scouts were trained with appropriate health skills and are now partners of health care promoting a healthy environment. They are also equipped with other life skills such as communication and critical –decision making.
She and other technical staff take turns co-hosting the weekly Provincial Health Hour at Radyo Sagada, a local radio station in 2012. Doc Pen selflessly shares everything she knows on how to be healthy with her write-up published in local papers. Doc Pen is popular to many, even in the barangays of Mountain Province of her intense advocacy in rediscovering indigenous health practices, systems and values to recover health and wellness. She was firm in her advocacy that reclaiming our healthy indigenous lifestyle is the major path for development and happiness. Every time she speaks in front of the public and in a small group, she spreads the good news. “We can live happy and healthy even by just using the resources that we have. These are God’s gift. God is a God of love. He loves us so much that he gave us everything we need in the community. What I have rediscover is that our traditional way of life is still the best to live. It took me nearly 20 years to realize that,” she shared.
It was not only her who turned back in reclaiming the healthy indigenous lifestyle, but her family as well. While doing this among themselves, they continuously advocate it to people they meet. Indeed, there are those whom they have shared the good news claim to have change their lifestyle.
With her daughter Gawani, she opened a vegan restaurant in Sagada which promotes healthy living.
It is not difficult to not find yourself immersed in Doc Pen’s world as she shares her story. Truly, she is a Bayani ng Kalusugan.
Asked how she feels to receive a national award, her genuine smile shows how happy and thankful she is. As a Bayani ng Kalusugan Awardee, she received a trophy and a cash prize of P200, 000.
By Alpine L. Killa