‘Quasi’ Romualdez, champion of health reforms, dies

Buena Bernal
(2nd UPDATE) The former DOH secretary – who pushed for universal healthcare, reproductive health, and tobacco control – dies of heart attack October 18

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Former Health Secretary Alberto “Quasi” G Romualdez passed away at noon on Friday, October 18. He was 73.

Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Ted Herbosa said Romualdez was confined at the Manila Doctors’ Hospital after a heart attack on Saturday, October 12.

“He is survived by his wife Peachy Herbosa-Romualdez, my eldest sister, Vida and George and Ace and Kaye,” said Herbosa, who is also Romualdez’s brother-in-law.

A day after Romualdez’s passing, the DOH acknowledged its former head’s contributions to the health sector.

DOH chief Enrique Ona said Romualdez will be “sorely missed as our ally in championing for health reforms.”

It was during the regular Monday flag ceremony on Sept 14, 1998 – which was also Romualdez’s 58th birthday – when he was introduced to the DOH employees as new chief.

Even in the first few weeks of his leadership, his priorities were clear: efficiency and moving away from graft issues, access to healthcare, and a review of the agency’s structure, given the devolution mandated by the Local Government Code.

Estrada cabinet

Romualdez held the Cabinet post under the short-lived presidency of Joseph “Erap” Estrada, from 1998 to January 2001.

In a statement, Estrada said his former Cabinet member was “a man of competence and unquestionable integrity.”

“He understood my vision to help uplift the lives of the poor. Through his efforts, we were able to distribute population control measures and cheaper medicines to the poor without enacting a law,” Estrada said.

Former Finance Secretary Jose “Titoy” Pardo said he was “like a brother to us,” while Former Labor Secretary Bienvenido Leguema said he was a “reliable and commited friend.”

THE ERAP CABINET. Alberto Romualdez (center; standing) shares a moment with other members of the Erap Cabinet during the launch of the tribute biography "Erap: Ito Ang Pilipino." Photo by Margaux Salcedo

Respected advocate

Romualdez was known for advocating public health reforms to better respond to the needs of the poor and marginalized. He was active in the reproductive health and tobacco control campaigns. 

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) expressed its sympathy in the passing of Dr Romualdez.

“Dr. Quasi was and will be remembered in the CHR as one of its expert advisers in its work on reproductive rights,” said CHR in a statement.

“His most notable contribution to the work of CHR is the revocation of Executive Order No. 003 (EO 03) of the City of Manila, thus paving way for poor women in Manila the free choice of family planning method. EO 03, a very restrictive ordinance, was declared discriminatory to women,” the statement read.

Dr Anthony Leachon, vice president of the Philippine College of Physicians, described Romualdez as a “Filipino patriot” respected by health advocates for “his no-nonsense pronouncements on sin tax, RH bills, and lately on stem cell therapy.” 

“He has a deep sense of humanity, unparalleled passion for universal healthcare to address social inequities, and tremendous social skills to work well in harmony with public and private health stakeholders to advance our health goals as a nation,” said Leachon.

Organizations served

Romualdez served as board member of various advocacy groups, among them women’s group Likhaan and the Cullion Foundation Inc.

Likhaan founder Sylvia Claudio, who was Romualdez’s student in medical school, said his mentor lived “a life for others.”

“Dr Romualdez was a man of great principle. I don’t think he ever gave up on being a real expert, but he used that expertise to help the dispossessed and marginalized,” said Claudio in a phone interview.

Claudio explained that Likhaan assigned a staff-member to stay with the Romualdez family at the Manila Doctor’s Hospital the past 3 days of Romualdez’s hospitalization. 

Hilarion Guia, president of the Coalition of Leprosy Associations in the Philippines (CLAP), said he is saddened and shocked by the news of Romualdez’s passing. The Cullion Foundation Inc is a member-organization of CLAP.

Masyado siyang concerned of the fight of the people against leprosy. Nakakalungkot at nakikidalamhati kami sa pamilya,” said Guia. (He was very concerned with the fight of the people against leprosy. We are saddened and sympathize with the family.)  – Rappler.com

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