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TOFIL Awardee

Dr. Ray L. Catague
TOFIL Awardee for Public Health, 2010

 

A physician with no fear

 

Mention the Province of Cotabato and the image of a landlocked province where chaos reigns usually appears: Moro rebels clashing with armed civilians, villagers fleeing their homes, a bomb exploding in a bus terminal, local politicians torching a school building.

Amid the chaos, there is one man who’s like a peaceful river and his name is Dr. Ray L. Catague, the Provincial Health Officer.

After completing medicine at the West Visayas State University in Lapaz, Iloilo City in 1984, the revered doctor started out as a volunteer physician at the 10-room Don Jose Monfort Memorial Hospital in the municipality of Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo.

After four years devoting his residency to rural practice, he moved to Mindanao and served as Municipal Health Officer of the Mlang, Cotabato in 1994.

It was in this province that Dr. Catague faced three daunting challenges: frequent floods, lack of peace and order, and stark poverty.

During heavy rains, people from the hinterlands would find it difficult to come down and sell their products to the barrios because of severely damaged roads. And when the rains stop, people also face the lack of transportation as rampant extortion activities by insurgents scare drivers and bus operators away.

The crusade

Dr. Catague dedicated his life to serving the poor in a land where choices don’t exist even as he has been dealing with his own health crusade.  He has been a diabetic for more than 20 years but this did not stop the persevering doctor’s quest to uplift lives.

A workaholic who doesn’t complain about the scarcity in health care and medical resources, Dr. Catague always made himself available to patients, even if it meant bringing government health services to the far-flung barangays.

Realizing he cannot perform miracles, he organized people to provide additional manpower and serve as his partners in rural health.  This later became a pioneering program called the Barangay Health Workers (BHW) Federation.

Sticky innovations

While North Cotabato is considered as Mindanao’s food basket, malnutrition is ironically widespread.  Decades of armed conflict had taken a toll on the province, making children mired in poverty the most vulnerable.

Inspired by the success of the BHW, Dr. Catague thought of a program that would empower the youth of Cotabato in addressing the problem of malnutrition.  He started the Barangay Nutrition Scholar (BNS), which gives students the opportunity to help implement the government’s nutrition programs in the villages. Each BNS scholar receives a monthly stipend of P150 to P350 every year to take part in an intensive campaign against malnutrition.

Dr. Catague also reached out to the indigenous people (IP), who account for nearly a fifth of the population of Cotabato.  From mere recipients of dole-outs, he transformed the Manobo, T’boli, and Maguindanao groups into partners in the province’s anti-malnutrition program. They learned how to make feeding formula for malnourished children, construct health and nutrition posts, and provide sanitary toilets and potable water sources. Dr. Catague also tapped the assistance of IP groups in constructing Birthing Centers in far-flung areas to prevent deaths among women giving birth.

Among his innovations, what stuck to the public’s mind the most is the Nutripak Calamay Hati style, which the Department of Health has adopted. The Nutripak Calamay is a rice cake mixed with munggo beans, dried anchovies, milk and sesame seeds that serves as a complete meal for malnourished children.  By helping reduce incidents of malnutrition in the province, Dr. Catague’s special Calamay landed in the top 10 list of innovations of the Local Performance Program of the USAID in 1999.  It also inspired the government of Indonesia to replicate the program.

Courage under fire

For 12 years now, Dr. Catague has looked danger in the eye while also working as a military doctor of the Philippine Army Reservist in rebel-infested Makilala in Cotabato. He would risk his life providing health services to evacuees in war-torn areas where the government battles insurgents from the Moro International Liberation Front (MILF).

On top of it all, he is always in the frontlines whenever disasters strike the province, leading the Provincial Quick Response Team of North Cotabato, which he organized.

For these, the public health doctor has earned a string of awards and recognition, including the ABS-CBN’s Bayaning Pilipino Award in 2001; the Dr. Jose Rizal Award as “Most Outstanding Physician of the Philippines” in 2004; Outstanding Performance Award from the United Nations Population Fund in 2005. He is also one of two Filipino physicians nominated as “Caring Physicians of the World” by the World Medical Association. He was recognized as an Outstanding Physician in Community Service Award; and one of the Ten Outstanding Filipino Physicians in 2009, given by the Philippine International Jaycee, the DOH and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

For Dr. Catague, “courage is not the absence of fear, but it is doing what is right even in the presence of fear.” With an unshaken faith in his Creator, he has been boldly living a life of heroism and public service for the past 27 years and never regretted a single day.

 

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