Former Health Secretary Juan Flavier dies

Jee Y. Geronimo
(2nd UPDATE) Former Senator and Health Secretary Juan Flavier dies October 30 from complications from pneumonia. He was 79.

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Former Senator and Health Secretary Juan Flavier passed away Thursday afternoon, October 30, Acting Health Secretary Janette Garin confirmed to Rappler.

Lawyer Rodolfo Noel Quimbo, chief of staff of former senator Juan Flavier, told Rappler that Flavier “died peacefully” at 3:55 pm. He was 79.

Flavier was brought to the National Kidney and Transplant Institute last September 10 when he appeared distracted. He was suspected to have been food poisoned, but a day after was diagnosed with pneumonia.

He was brought to the intensive care unit (ICU) on September 11, where he stayed until he died Thursday afternoon.

Quimbo said Flavier’s family and friends could not talk to him because of the tubes attached to him, and his body has since deteriorated. 

Health advocate

Flavier was appointed health secretary by former President Fidel Ramos in 1992. He popularized the phrase “Let’s DOH it!”.

During his years of service, he introduced Oplan Alis Disease, a massive immunization campaign that eventually led to the World Health Organization declaring the Philippines as polio-free.

Some of his projects that have stayed on through the years are the anti-tobacco campaign Yosi Kadiri, and the Doctors to the Barrios program, which deploys fresh graduates of medical schools to poor and remote municipalities. 

On the controversial reproductive health (RH) law, Quimbo said Flavier thought the RH debate was “divisive.”

“He said government only needed to fund family planning program, no need for RH law,” Quimbo added. 

‘Exemplary Filipino leader’

Flavier also ran for and won as senator during the 1995 elections, joining the 10th Congress. (READ: ‘A senator must act with integrity’)

He was reelected in the 2001 elections and championed health advocacies as chairman of the Senate committee on health and demography. 

Some of the major laws he authored are the Indigenous People’s Rights Act, the law that created the National Anti-Poverty Commission, and the E-Commerce law. 

Flavier was also a published author and wrote 10 volumes of his book, Parables from the Barrio. His last book and autobiography, From Barrio to Senado, won the National Book Award in 2008. 

Malacañang on Thursday mourned the loss of Flavier, an “exemplary Filipino leader.”

“As a public servant, he championed the cause of countryside development and upgrading the quality of public health care. He served with integrity and endeared himself to the by dint of his humility, simplicity, jovial character and common touch,” Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said in a statement. 

Senate President Franklin Drilon also extended the Senate’s condolences to the family of “Johnny.”

“Senator Flavier’s humility and simplicity defined him. He was a doctor who shunned the lure of a financially rewarding private practice to be a ‘Doctor to the Barrios’,” he said in a statement Thursday. 

“He continued his selfless ways by joining public service as a Secretary of Health who bravely campaigned for his advocacies, and as a Senator who placed the interest of our people above all else.”

Drilon called Flavier a man “whose integrity and devotion to duty only a few can match.” – with a report from Aries Rufo/


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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.