the privilege of knowing & working for the Barrio Doctor

Ms Didith Tayawa- Figuracion and the great man, Senator Juan Flavier

Ms Didith Tayawa- Figuracion and the great man, Senator Juan Flavier

[Note : Today we give way to someone special on a special subject.  Though we didn’t know it then, my friend and fellow migrant Ms Didith Tayawa-Figuracion and I worked in the Senate of the Philippines at roughly the same time.  I couldn’t make one word better in this simply written but eloquent tribute to not just a dedicated public servant but a great man, Dr Juan Flavier.  Thank you Didith and Clark (get well soon) for allowing me to repost. ]

Here’s a tribute to SENATOR JUAN MARTIN FLAVIER, my former boss, idol, father figure and Ninong, all rolled into one:

You were my boss in the Senate for 10 years before moving to New Zealand to start a new chapter of my life. In all those years, I have only but happy memories.

I remember how you fondly called me Pocahontas.

I remember how you consoled me after being emotional when substantial changes to the proposed Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), a landmark legislation, were made at the Bicameral Congressional Committee on Cultural Communities.You said: “Didith, in life, you can’t win them all.You have to be prepared to compromise. What is important is to identify your non-negotiables and fight tooth and nail for them.” These are words that have guided me in life all these years.

I remember the campaign trail and speaking engagements when I accompanied you. No matter how many times I have heard some of your jokes and anecdotes, you never fail to make me laugh.You are a stellar public speaker – funny and witty. I asked what your secret was and you said: “Didith, if you make your audience laugh and cry at the same time, you hit the right spot. Speak from your heart and don’t be afraid to make jokes of yourself and your experiences”. I’m trying to but it is easier said than done.

I remember with fondness our Senate family. We ate together, travelled together. You treated us like your own children. We were a very happy family.

I remember how generous you were in your praises of your staff members. At the signing of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) as a law in Malacanang Palace in 1997, you introduced me to then President Fidel Ramos as the one who worked hard for the passage of the law even if the credit was yours because of your steadfastness and resolute to have this law passed when others have failed. Previous Congresses have not even reached the Second Reading. You always introduced your staff as the ‘one that makes you look intelligent’ even if you should get all the credit because you put your 100% in all you do. We were just happy to say that ‘you are the one that makes us look honourable’. You are a remarkable man, a very humble man.

I remember how you were unconventional as a Senator. Our Senate Office was the only one with a note on the door stating that you do not accept solicitation letters nor invitations to weddings or baptismal as a sponsor. Others said it was a political suicide. You said you are in the Senate to make laws and not distribute money. You also said, how can you be a true godfather to people you do not know and not even met? This is because you take seriously the role of a godfather.

I remember that when you were driven to work and home, you only have one route and traversed it everyday. You never wanted any other way no matter how bad the traffic was.You never had a bodyguard nor used your ‘wangwang’ nor the car’s horn. You even drove your grandchildren, to SM for instance, on your own. You didn’t drive any of the luxury cars other Senators or public officials drove. You lived a life of a simple man despite your stature.

I remember your advice to us at our wedding. Even if you were not physically present at our wedding here in New Zealand, you sent us your lovely message. You said that your secrets to a happy marriage are: 1) never sleep with your problems/issues unresolved because when you wake up the next day, the problem will remain unsolved plus a headache and irritation for lack of sleep; 2) when one is fire, the other should be water; learn to keep quiet and placate the other person before opening your mouth; 3) always say ‘I love you’ and kiss your partner before you leave the house or the car because you’ll never know that it maybe your last and always remember to celebrate important milestones in your life. Simple advices but true and tested.

I remember how you and Ninang Susan allowed us to visit and had lunch with you at your home in Tandang Sora whenever we go visit the Philippines for holiday, even if in those times, you don’t feel well and were not accepting of visitors. You said that we are always welcome and treat your home as ours. We value that trust and privilege.

I will always remember you. You will always be in my heart. I thank God that I had the privilege of knowing you, being close to you. An honourable person like you, in this time and age, is difficult to come by. So it is indeed an honour and privilege to be associated with you in your life’s journey.

I love you JMF. I will miss you. Goodbye.

Didith Tayawa Clark Figuracion
Wellington, New Zealand