Juan Flavier: The most honest senator I knew

MANILA, Philippines - Juan Martin Flavier was my best friend in the Senate, and possibly the most honest senator I knew.

He was born in Tondo, Manila, but grew up in Baguio. He was a bright student and graduated valedictorian in both grade school and high school. He graduated Bachelor of Science from the University of the Philippines and placed at the top of his class, thus qualifying him as a member of the Phi Kappa Phi International Honor Society. In addition, he was admitted as a member of the Alpha Epsilon Delta international honor society for the advancement of research.

Subsequently, he graduated Doctor of Medicine also at the University of the Philippines. Naturally he trained at UP Philippine General Hospital, where he was named outstanding intern. Some nine years later, he earned the degree Masters in Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Senator Juan Flavier served as doctor to the barrios in Nueva Ecija and Cavite.  He was recognized and rewarded with his appointment as president of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, and a year later as president of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction.  It did not come as a surprise that the Philippine Jaycees gave him the Award for TOYM (or Ten Outstanding Young Men). The UP Alumni Association followed suit by naming him as Most Distinguished Alumnus.

In a much-applauded move, in 1992 he was appointed health secretary. Secretary Flavier launched public health programs that captivated the public with his catchy, media-savvy slogans. His American alma mater recognized his achievements as a Filipino public servant by awarding him a gold medal for marked distinction in public health. 

On the strength of his rock-star status, he won as senator in the 1995 elections.  In all, he served two terms. He endeared himself to all committee chairs when they needed another senator to form the quorum of two senators for a public hearing.  No matter what the committee or subject was, the genial Senator Flavier made himself available every single day of the week for a quorum, as if it was his duty.

Courage, purity of heart

Johnny and I were both neophyte senators in the same year. Hardly had the dust settled from the campaign, when I rose in a privilege speech to denounce pork barrel kickbacks, which in that simpler time consisted of 10 percent of the public funds involved. I heatedly said that right after I was proclaimed senator, a series of contractors asked for appointments. I had just been named laureate of the Magsaysay Award for Government Service, with a citation “for bold and moral leadership in cleaning up a graft-ridden government agency.”

Despite my highly publicized Asian award for honesty, the individual contractors minced no words. Their offers were the same: if I turned over my pork barrel funds, they would build the public works project, take care of the incidental bribes that were part of the process, and guarantee that I would receive a 10-percent kickback. I would not need to sign anything – as some of them said: “Malinis ang kikitain.”

I was so insulted and outraged that I rushed to the Senate to denounce the system, expecting that my colleagues would leap to their feet and confirm my narrative.  But, foolish me, after my speech there was no interpellation and no comment from anybody. Nobody spoke. Except for one man – Senator Juan Flavier. With an offended expression, he rose to affirm my accusation of corruption in the Senate.  If Senator Flavier did not have the courage and the purity of heart to support my story of corruption, I would have made no impact. Because of Senator Flavier’s comment, the media picked up the story.

When I was sometimes tired or bored or downhearted, I would saunter to Johnny’s desk and engage him in a chat, confident that I was sharing a companionable time with an honest man; a good man; a great man.

In conclusion, since Juan Martin Flavier was a scholarly man who sought knowledge from universities abroad, allow me to quote from the poem entitled “Dominus Illuminatio Mea,” the Oxford motto which means “God be my light:”

In the hour of death, after this life’s whim,

When the heart beats low, and the eyes grow dim,

And pain has exhausted every limb –

The lover of the Lord shall trust in Him. - Rappler.com


Senator Santiago made this eulogy for the late Senator Flavier during necrological rites for him at the Philippine Senate on Monday, November 17. Flavier died on October 30.