'Mamita', Doctor, Activist, Dies
Former social welfare secretary Mita Pardo de Tavera passed away last Tuesday after a battle with leukemia. She was 87.
Interment will be on Friday after a Mass at 1 p.m. at the Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park, Makati City.
Born to the illustrious Pardo de Tavera clan, “Mamita,” as she was called by people close to her, devoted more than six decades of her life to serving the needy.
After graduating from the University of the Philippines in 1944 with a degree in medicine, Pardo de Tavera worked at the Philippine Tuberculosis Society. It was an eye-opener for her. In a 1986 interview with Woman Today, she said, “That’s where I saw the imbalances, the wide disparity between the poor and the better-to-do.”
Pardo de Tavera later became executive secretary of the PTS. She led the organization until 1974.
In the 1970s, she founded the Alay Kapwa Kilusang Pangkalusugan (Akap), an organization of health workers volunteering to teach preventive medicine to poor communities nationwide.
Akap has educated thousands of residents of impoverished communities on ailments like tuberculosis, diarrhea, colds, flu, dengue and malaria.
Even when she was past retirement age, Pardo de Tavera participated actively in street protests against Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship.
After Marcos’ ouster, she served as social welfare secretary in the Aquino administration.
She also became chair of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and president of the Philippine Cancer Society.
In 1991, the PCS launched the Hospice Home Care Program, which provided psycho-emotional and spiritual support to the terminally ill. Pardo de Tavera focused on cancer-stricken persons given short-term survival by their doctors.
For her “outstanding community services and medical ethics,” the Philippine Medical Association gave Pardo de Tavera the Dr. Jose P. Rizal Award in 1994.
Her Heart is with the People
Good deeds have a way of spreading out, so they say. In the case of Mita Pardo de Tavera, who obtained her degree in medicine from the University of the Philippines and her post-graduate studies at Bellevue Hospital in New York, it doesn't really matter whether you're a leftist or a rightist.
In commemoration of the 21st anniversary of the People Power Revolution, we wish to share with our readers an interview we did with one of the stalwarts who fought the old regime and a so-called player of the peaceful revolution in the now historic EDSA Shrine. The interview was done a month after Cory Aquino became President of the Philippines and was published in the April 9, 1986 issue of Woman Today.
For Mita Pardo de Tavera, the transition from street parliamentarian to government minister has been most unexpected, albeit not a few considered her appointment a shot in the arm for the ministry with the mostest (work), but with the smallest (budget) - the Ministry of Social Services and Development.
Only very recently, charges of traffic obstruction filed against her and six other GABRIELA members who staged a picket last year somewhere along United Nations Avenue have been dropped. Had it not been for the non-violent four-day February revolt, Mita Pardo de Tavera's noble and a gallant cause could have been curtailed.
'Not that such petty harassment or intimidation can faze the likes of this grey-haired, 66-year-old grandmother who traces her roots to the ilustrados of yore and whose strict Spanish upbringing instilled in her the strength of spirit and an upright sense of values.
The Mita Pardo de Tavera, whom people refer to in the same breath as "leftist" (because of her close association with the poor and the underprivileged, and her involvement in various cause-oriented feminist movements) and "elitist" (her high school years were spent at the Assumption Convent and she maintains a home address at opulent Dasmariñas Village), strikes a new acquaintance as neither of both. A couple of weeks after she assumed her new post, she still hasn't gotten used to the powerful connotation her official title brings - The Honorable Minister.
Although steeped in aristocratic breeding, Pardo de Tavera nonetheless has endeared herself to those whom she has been helping for the last 30 years without a hint of hesitation or thought of remuneration. Call it dedication or an innate compassion for people, Pardo de Tavera has seen it all.
"Have you actually seen a third-degree malnourished child? We call that a kwashiorkor case in medical parlance. You might have thought such cases are rampant only in Ethiopia or in the African region, but goodness, they're right here in our country," explains Pardo de Tavera, who loves to call her domain the Ministry of the People "because we deal with people, being the social welfare arm of the government."
Although this is her first stint as a public official, she claims familiarity in dealing with the bureaucracy because of her work with the Philippine Tuberculosis Society since 1945, which is a quasi-government organization. When she left in 1974 because of internal politics, she was the executive secretary.
Her 30 years spent with the tuberculars at the Quezon Institute constitute the "social laboratory" which Pardo de Tavera speaks of to this day. She expounds, "That's where I saw the imbalances, the wide disparity between the poor and the better-to-do. It was a real eye-opener for me."
At that time, nobody ventured into community-based health programs, much less tread the path of tuberculars, then and now considered as outcasts because of the social implications of the disease. The non-conformist that she has always been, Pardo de Tavera plunged right away into community-based programs, making her one of the pioneers in the world in promoting primary health care. Before long, as her long work hours immersed her deeper into the sad plight of the poor and underprivileged, Pardo de Tavera expanded her concerns by denouncing a dictatorial regime, marching in the streets, always on the forefront of women's groups that were promptly labeled as oppositionist.
She draws some similarity from the lives of her forebears, her grandfather Dr. Trinidad Pardo de Tavera and her great-grandfather lawyer Joaquin Pardo de Tavera. "My great-grandfather was the lawyer of the three Spanish friars, Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora. They didn't kill him like what they did to the priests, but he was jailed because he fought for human rights. They incarcerated him in Fort Santiago, then they sent him to Marianas Islands (now Guam) which was then the devil's island for prisoners because they tortured you. My grandfather was a close friend of Jose Rizal. They were only three years apart in age. They were both physicians and both shared the same anti-Spain sentiments."
On her first day of work as Social Services Minister, Pardo de Tavera gathered all the employees, definitely not to show them who's boss, but rather to get acquainted with them. Clad in a simple white top and printed cotton skirt, her hair tied neatly in a bun, the new Minister appeared more like a doting grandmother calling in the kids for dinner.
Actually a real-life grandmother 11 times over, the good-natured Minister confesses to being not the prototype of a grandmother. "They'd come looking for me, but I'm never home," she chimes in and adds, "but I assure you, they won't ever think of looking for me in the beauty parlor."
Indeed, good deeds have a way of spreading out, so they say. In the case of Mita Pardo de Tavera, who obtained her degree in medicine from the University of the Philippines and her post-graduate studies at Bellevue Hospital in New York, it doesn't really matter whether you're a leftist or a rightist.
Mita Pardo de Tavera on Juan Luna
Former social welfare secretary Mita Pardo de Tavera passed away Tuesday after a lingering illness. She lived a long and meaningful life, caring for people not as a bureaucrat but more as a physician. And this was clear at her wake which was bursting with flowers and people who had come from all over to pay their respects.
Old photos made me see beyond the gentle, silver-haired grandmother I first met in 1988 when I was doing research on the soured relations between Juan Luna and the Pardo de Tavera family. How did a privileged and obviously pampered little girl grow into a woman who cared for the sick and the needy?
I sat in conversation with Mamita, and it didn’t feel like I was speaking to a Cabinet secretary. It was more like listening to my grandmother narrating a time and place before mine. Normally quiet and soft-spoken, Mamita’s voice would change drastically when she spoke of two Ilocanos: Ferdinand Marcos and Juan Luna.
I dug up the transcript of the first of several conversations I had with her over the years and decided to share them here, since Mamita passed away quietly on the eve of Juan Luna’s 150th birthday.
There is a recent opera on Luna with a libretto by Fides Cuyugan Asensio whose dramatic parts were allegedly toned down because Mita was watching. The same for Virginia Moreno’s play on Luna that is legendary because it has never been staged, allegedly because Mita would not be pleased.
Come to think of it, Mita attended every lecture on Luna I gave except the last one because she was then in the intensive care unit. I would open the lecture by warning her that she would not like or agree with everything I said but there was nothing personal in the presentation; I was just telling the story based on my sources. She never made a fuss, so I wonder why the librettist and the playwright felt censored when they have artistic license that historians do not have.
For Mita, the Luna tragedy is rooted in family honor and it was for this reason that she granted interviews that often began this way:
“I’ve often read that in a fit of jealousy, Luna killed his wife and mother-in-law, but until it was insinuated that it was for unfaithfulness, I had to say what I know of the affair. They [Juliana Gorricho, Paz Pardo de Tavera and little Andres ‘Luling’ Luna] were going down the stairs of the house and they did not tell Luna that they were abandoning him because he was violent. Very violent, like his brother [Antonio] the general who was a killer, [had a] killer’s instinct, and so they were also afraid of this Juan Luna because he also had this killer’s instinct. They were leaving the house, the two brothers Trinidad and Felix, with [their lawyer] Regidor were waiting across the street. When the three were going down the stairs, Luna flew into a rage and tried to stop them, and then he shot them. My grandfather Trinidad heard the shots, and so with Felix and Regidor they came to the rescue, running up the stairs. My grandfather, who was leading the group was shot in the shoulder.”
My research shows that the women locked themselves inside an upstairs bathroom and shouted for help from the window. As the brothers entered the compound to help, Luna fired from the house and hit Felix in the chest, who was then dragged out to safety by Trinidad and Regidor. The police were summoned. More shots were heard from the bathroom, and when the smoke cleared, Juliana Gorricho lay dead and Paz was mortally wounded.
While the details, as Mamita related them, are not very accurate, she provided the social context for the tragedy that, like the recent Glorietta blast, is best described as an accident waiting to happen. Mita continued:
“This was the house of the Pardo de Taveras because the Lunas were -- I don’t want to sound class conscious -- but everyone knows that the Lunas were a simple family that couldn’t have had the opulence of living in Paris at the time. That was the house of the mother-in-law, who was a Gorricho, very wealthy. And that was what I think contributed to [Luna’s] total deterioration because it was parang inferiority complex. Can you imagine living out of your mother-in-law? Pagkatapos you feel inferior and then your wife is going to leave because you are violent. That’s it, he was really very violent.”
Then as now, the scene of this tragedy is a posh residence in a posh Paris district. It is a real house, not an apartment building. Luna was indeed living in his mother-in-law’s home.
Then there is the release of Luna after the trial. We are often told that Luna was acquitted because French courts recognized this as a “crime of passion.” Mita had a different angle:
“You know why Luna was exonerated? On the basis of a provision in French law which says that a native people, very primitive people, have this tendency to run amok. And so it was considered that since he came from a primitive race, running amok was pardonable because that is a trait of primitive people. So ‘nainsulto pa ang mga Pilipino, nainsulto pa tayo’ [Filipinos were insulted, we were insulted], as if we were monkeys hanging on our tails.”
Interviews with descendants of heroes can be tricky and must be balanced with historical sources, but what has always fascinated me is the way history remains alive with these people. To them it is so real the events could have happened only yesterday.