We continue to interview mission leaders and are now beginning to schedule interviews with other Filipino saints that have a closer native connection to Filipino church history. While interviewing mission and other local leaders is relatively easy to do because we know who they area and where to find them. In many cases, it’s a challenge to find early Filipino saints to interview because they are relatively unknown and if we do know and learn of them after a lot of homework, we more often than not can’t locate them because addresses and other contact information is unavailable or extremely outdated.
We have several interviews scheduled in the next few months with a few of the elderly Filipino saints that had various roles in early church history either as missionaries, early leaders in the Philippines, or converts. More to on these types of experiences to come.
What We Continue to Learn About the Philippines
There are times when we have to travel to do an interview. A mission leader in San Pablo, a city about four hours south of Quezon City was leaving to return home a few weeks ago. Our appointment was in the afternoon so we decided to stay overnight vs. driving back late in the evening. I was able to find a nice two bedroom, two bath townhouse on Airbnb for $41 per night for the entire townhouse. After the interview, we had dinner at a local restaurant.
San Pablo is a city of about 285,000 people. It’s located in the southern part of the Laguna province on the Island of Luzon and is one of the oldest cities in the Philippines. The city is also known as the “City of Seven Lakes” getting this name because of seven lakes in the area, some of which we drove around no our return trip.
I’ve mentioned before that basketball is a thing in the Philippines. We stayed on the outskirts of San Pablo City and while driving to our Airbnb, we passed some kids playing basketball. I noticed that some of these kids were playing on an asphalt court in the afternoon with no barefoot. As you can imagine how hot asphalt might get under the afternoon sun.
When we returned after our interview and dinner it was pitch black out with no street lights. As we drove by the same basketball court, there were no court lights but we knew we were driving by the basketball court because we could see small dark images moving about and heard the unmistakable sound of the bouncing of a basketball as the kids continued to play basketball long after sunset by the light of the moon. When I was a kid, I played basketball at dusk but never after the sun went down in the dark.
Basketball in the Rural Philippines
One of the big concerns for Marcia was medical care in the Philippines. However, a recent experience provided a measure of comfort and allowed her to stop worrying about this as much as she had been doing.
In 2018, Marica had a pacemaker surgically inserted in her chest. This reason for this procedure was because while on her daily morning walk, she passed out and fell face first on the asphalt breaking her cheek bone, nearly knocking out her four upper front teeth, and messing up her nose. She looked like she had been kicked by a Clydesdale horse.
Eventually, the doctors were able to diagnosis what caused her to completely black out….a hyper-sensitive corraded artery in her neck. This condition which is triggered when she turned her head to look over her shoulder, this head neck rotating motion of the turning her head put pressure on the corraded artery causing it to go into a spasm completely shutting off the blood flow to the brain….the result – a complete blacking out and an asphalt face plant.
A pacemaker compensates for the loss of blood flow during an episode, plus also compensating for an issue related to some electrical pulse abnormalities between the upper and lower chambers of her heart.
After we arrived here, I attempted to get a referral to an Electrophysiologist Cardiologist. It took a while but I finally was able to locate one that had an impressive CV.
Before I share our experience of our first doctor’s visit, let me outline how the medical system works in the Philippines.
Filipino citizens are entitled to free universal healthcare under the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, known as “PhilHealth.” a government sponsored insurance program. Overall, the healthcare system in the Philippines is good. For the most part the Filipino medical community is highly trained, although the facilities may not be as impressive as those found in the US. While the overall quality of the Philippines’ state-subsidized public healthcare is good, healthcare in rural areas is of a significantly lower quality than found in hospitals in larger cities.
In many cases, the public medical facilities and hospitals often overburdened which has given rise to a private healthcare system that provides more consistent care with facilities that are better equipped than their public counterpart.
This two-tiered medical system – public that are often lacking in staff and equipment, and a private medical delivery system with physicians, hospitals, and clinics with more and better equipment and highly skilled specialist providers (MDs).
Our First Medical Visit
In the spirit of being prepared, I decided it was prudent to seek out a cardiologist since both Marcia have related heart issues. As mentioned, Marcia has a pacemaker and my family has a history of heart disease – where few live to a ripe old age before dying of some type of cardiac event.
I did research and found a private hospital and an electrophysiologist cardiologist. Amazingly, there was no long wait to get an appointment. I made an appointment via text on my phone and then text messaged to confirm date, time, and address. The drive to the hospital was about five miles but in Philippines traffic this was a nearly and hour’s drive.
After arriving, we were asked to fill out the traditional new patient paperwork and then were ushered into the doctor’s office. Even though this appointment was primarily for Marcia because of her pacemaker but since I had to serve as her personal chauffeur, I made an appointment for me too.
Our doctor, Dr. Clara Torentino, was perky, competent, and thorough and was ~40-45 year oldish Asian lady – she was not Filipino – probably Chinese. Our visit was a pleasant surprise. Not only was our doctor knowledgeable but she took a lot of time to explain specifically what Marcia’s heart issues were and what the pacemaker was doing/not doing – no one in the US ever took the time to explain this to us. She hooked Marcia up to a pacemaker monitoring and diagnostic system taking the time to explain each of the settings, what the reading on these settings meant, and eventually suggested a minor adjustment to one of the settings to be reset from a manual to an automatic mode.
I asked her why this setting wasn’t already set to an automatic mode; she demurred by saying that it wasn’t absolutely necessary but given Marcia’s age it was a probably a good thing to do.
After Marcia’s 45-minute examine, the doctor turned her attention to me and asked questions and took notes related to several of prior medical procedures, took my blood pressure, etc.
After about an hour, our appointments were done. She told us to come back in six months for a follow up visit. As we walked out of her office, I stopped at the front desk and asked the medical assistant about payment – there was no billing, insurance forms, or credit cards – it was cash only. She handed us an itemized bill with a total of P4,710 ($89.00) for Marcia. I asked the medical assistant what my bill would be and she told me this was just a consultation and there was no charge. Yep, no charge. That surprised me.
After making payment, as the medical assistant was handing me back my change in pesos, she noticed our senior missionary name tags and enthusiastically told us that she was taking the missionary lessons and was going to be baptized in July or August. I gave her my email and told her to let us know the date and place of her baptism and we would attend if possible.
Missionary Name Tags
It has been interesting to get use to always wearing our missionary name tags.
The name tag forces you to always be smiling, never acting bad, and always being on your best behavior. There have been times when complete strangers will approach us on the street and begin to talk to us. They may know a member of the Church or be a member.
When we walk into a new ward building for Sunday services, everyone will greet us with Elder or Sister Storm because they see our names on our shirt or blouse. We are always welcome and treated with respect for two reasons – one, we are missionaries and two, the Filipino respect their elders and we are really old.
Bottom line – we can never hide.
One of the exceptions of things costing a lot less in the Philippines than in the US is medication. I take a branded medication that is relatively expensive in the US. For example, when we left the US, we cancelled our Medicare and prescription coverage and now pay for private international medical and drug prescription insurance plan.
It was recommended that we purchase a year’s worth of medication prior to leaving the US, which I did. The day before boarding our flight to Manila, I picked up a year’s worth of the branded / non-generic medication. The co-pay was 50%. The branded medications I take, after the 50% co-pay was $3,060 – this means that this prescription’s annual cost was $6,100. I declined getting this medication in the US.
After arriving in the Philippines, I got a year’s supply of this identical branded medication in the Philippines for $352 after the co-pay – that is a $2,600 difference for the same exact medication in the Philippines. The generic medications were approximately the same after co-pay in both the US and Philippines.
When you see this type of price differential, the high medical care costs in the US can be better understood.
Schools and Education
All school children that go to a private or public schools wear uniforms. This is amazing because even poor families somehow managed to get their kids school uniforms if their kids go to school, which not all do.
Education is important to Filipinos. However, the sad truth is that most Filipinos don’t have access to high quality schools because most of the people live in rural areas of the Philippines and live in crushing poverty where there are few qualified teachers, in adequate books and teaching materials, and nearly no access to computers for online learning.
One of the big humanitarian efforts of the church is education. In our apartment building there is a couple that devotes their time to traveling to rural areas in the Philippines to implement educational programs. In the apartment building next to ours, another humanitarian senior missionary couple that has completed numerous local projects of gifting and installing computer in local school districts.
Education is free through four years of college for those that qualify and can meet all the admission and retention requirements. These requirements means that students must pass the admission and retention requirements of the university they chose to attend and agree to finish a degree on time by enrolling in the required number of units per year. This means that any Filipino student enrolled in courses leading to a bachelor’s degree in state universities and colleges, local universities, college, or technical-vocational school will be exempted from paying tuition and other school fees including fees for the use of library, labs, and computer and those in technical-vocational schools fees for equipment use and tools maintenance as long as they complete their course work on a schedule….few free loaders here.
Great right? Yes, but many students can’t get into a university because of their inability to pass and admission test…this is a catch 22 because having access to a good education is limited because government funded schools are drastically underfunded leading to a lack of educational materials and teachers are poorly paid. This situation becomes a cycle that is perpetuates under prepared students unable to take advantage of higher educational opportunities. Nevertheless, Filipinos in general are above average in their educational level and their higher educational system (vs. the primary and secondary schools) is considered to be of top quality.