Death of Lanao del Norte doctor an ‘isolated case’ – Ubial

Jee Y. Geronimo

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Death of Lanao del Norte doctor an ‘isolated case’ – Ubial
(UPDATED) The health department calls on local government units to help improve the working conditions of health workers and ensure their security and benefits

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The health department believes the death of Dreyfuss Perlas, a physician who had been deployed to Lanao del Norte under the government’s Doctors to the Barrios (DTTB) program, is an isolated case.

“Because this is the second time that there is what we call murdered or killed in action of our health workers, we think it’s isolated. It’s not like they single out the health workers and really go after them,” Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial told reporters during a press conference on Monday, March 6.

The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday honored Perlas’ life and called for “swift justice” after the incident. (READ: Family, friends of slain volunteer doctor appeal for justice)

She continued: “It’s [an] isolated incident, and we believe that it’s really, shall we say, directed to Dr Perlas in whatever way it happened. It’s directed to the person, and not to what he actually represents – not doctors or health workers.”

Perlas was shot dead while riding his motorbike in Barangay Maranding Annex on Wednesday night, March 1. He came from a medical mission in Sapad town and was on his way home to Barangay Maranding, where he was renting a house.

The doctor was rushed to the Lanao del Norte Provincial Hospital in Kapatagan town, but was declared dead on arrival.

Before his death, Perlas served as municipal health officer of Sapad, Lanao del Norte. 

According to Elvira Dayrit, director of DOH’s Health Human Resource Development Bureau, there have been 21 incidents involving volunteers of the DTTB program since it was established in 1994.

She said there had been 7 deaths involving volunteers, but only two died while they were still with the program – one due to an accident, and the other due to an illness. 

Perlas had completed his stint with the DTTB, then decided to stay in Lanao de Norte.

The DOH hires about 300 doctors a year for the program. There have been 5,000 volunteers under the DTTB since 1994.


Following Perlas’ untimely death, Ubial on Monday denounced all acts of violence against doctors and health workers in the country. She also called on local government units to help improve the working conditions of health workers and ensure their security and benefits.

The health secretary said she requested Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to do a parallel investigation of the case. Aguirre has directed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate Perlas’ killing.

Ubial said they are making sure all health workers involved in the incident “are safely interviewed and accessible by the NBI and the police.”

“There [have] been reports that some of the health workers are actually afraid to make statements or reveal themselves as possible witnesses or informants, so we’re working with the NBI and the police so that there is no singling out of any particular health worker in this particular issue,” she added.

Ubial said authorities are looking at several angles, including reports that some patients were dissatisfied with how they were treated, while some were reprimanded by Perlas.

“But that’s not only true in Mindanao. Nationwide, even in the most well-equipped and beautiful situation, we can’t help it as doctors that we sometimes have a burst of emotion because we’re already tired in having a difficult day. I think all doctors, health workers face that situation, that we sometimes get the ire of patients because of our attitude.”

Another angle, Ubial said, has to do with the “dissatisfaction” of some health workers with Perlas’ leadership.

She explained: “But I think…that’s part of our job as a leader. You have to tell your people what you expect them to do and how they should deliver on their accomplishments, and sometimes we scold them if they are not accomplishing.”

Aside from the NBI investigation, the provincial government of Lanao del Norte also created a task force that will investigate the case.

Ubial said the provincial government even announced a reward money for the identification and capture of the suspects.

Lanao del Norte Governor Imelda Quibranza Dimaporo on Monday said the task force will include the police chiefs of the municipalities of Kapatagan, Lala, and Sapad to help gather information about the suspects.

“[Perlas] went even to the remote barangays in Sapad and he was loved by the people there. His death was a great loss to the province,” she said.

She assured the public that Lanao del Norte is a peaceful province, and that people don’t have to worry about the peace and order situation in the area.

Senator Risa Hontiveros also filed on Monday a Senate resolution calling for a legislative inquiry into Perlas’ death.  

Perlas was posthumously recognized as a Bayani ng Kalusugan (Hero of Health) by the DOH. His remains were flown to his hometown of Kalibo, Aklan, on Friday, March 3. He will be laid to rest on March 10. – with reports from Bobby Lagsa/

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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.