The Unsung Greatness of Dr. Leo Villalobos
Of Tacurong City
By A. V.
Son of hardworking and diligent teachers, Dr. Leo Villalobos was consistently on top of his class since he was in elementary. He was the valedictorian of their high school batch and finished his medicine degree at West Visayas State University (Iloilo City) in 1980. Despite the tempting offers from big local hospitals and opportunities abroad, he opted to stay and practice his acquired specialty in our hometown. He grew up in the midst of the town’s need for medical facilities as during the time, the nearest hospitals with complete facilities were located at Cotabato City which is a good 3 hours away on a public conveyance, and Davao City which is more than the aforementioned time away on perpetually repaired roads. This situation developed his steadfast advocacy that got deeply-rooted in his heart and consciousness.
Initially, he admitted patients at their home and stories circulated about his acceptance of affordable amount from patients, even vegetables, chicken and eggs. He did not impose fixed fees. Their home was a simple wooden structure with a deep-well pump in the yard where laundry was done, and which he renovated to accommodate his clinic. The attention that he gave to his patients was so personalized that he would even visit them at their home on his motorcycle. The routine brought him even to far-flung barrios and the people of Tacurong got used to seeing him making his daily rounds. It was this closeness to the Tacurongnons that made them clamor for his running even for Vice-Mayor, to which he obliged. They were hoping that he would proceed to the mayorship which did not happen.
He was not the political type of a guy, so that no grudge was ever developed against him by anybody. His campaign stance did not involve promises and badmouthing of fellow, albeit, opposing candidates, but just simple greetings to the folks who were glad that he conceded to their request. When he won, he did not abandon his responsibilities to the Tacurongnons which made him stay late at night due to the added tasks. But because politics was not really in his heart, he did not pursue it but instead doubled his effort in alleviating the health needs of the locals.
It was when he realized the inadequacy of his clinic that he thought of putting up some kind of a medical foundation cum hospital in Tacurong which was aptly and popularly referred to as the “Medical Mission”. To realize the project, he made spent his own time and money until it finally got inaugurated. The “hospital” is a simple concrete squarish structure with an emergency room and dormitory-type ones, located in front of the Sangguniang Panlunsod building and the Land Transportation Office.
Despite his hectic schedule in the Medical Mission Hospital, he saw to it that he got time for his schoolmates during their reunions. His earnings were much lesser compared to private medical practitioners. He was not receiving much from his post as Director of the hospital, being a non-profit institution. He would even shell out his own money as the need would arise.
The pressure of his advocacy took its toll as in time, his physical condition deteriorated. Despite his waning health, he still smiles when friends would drop by. What I cannot understand is why, until now, his contribution to the community has not been given recognition. During school reunions, I do not know if he was given a simple certificate of appreciation for putting his Alma Mater on the pedestal of academic prominence. With a heavy heart, I am now bound to believe the idiocy of the “traditional” posthumous recognition of people when they are stiff and dead…..given at their wake. For me it is a big insult to the people whose glaring greatness is not recognized while they are still alive. I would like to call such idiotic recognition in the local dialect as, “pakunsuwelo”.
Closely attending to his needs today are his only sister Hazel (Obliada) and son, Wawa (John) who works as a policeman in the city. On a daily basis Hazel would check on his brother while Wawa lives with him, going home only to the neighboring city of Koronadal where his own family lives, during weekends.
The parents of Dr. Leo and Hazel are long gone now. They have no other siblings and this thought would at times bring tears to the eyes of Hazel who is lucky to have been married to a generous husband from Quezon province.