Sen. Johnny’s healthy humor about ‘Mila’s lechon’ and his ‘white butt’

Even in his death, former health chief and senator Juan “Johnny” Flavier still manages to make people laugh and loosen up as they remember his spontaneous antics and jokes; and most likely this helps release a lot of favorable healing hormones in anyone who chuckles at them.

Dr. Flavier could have been a highly successful medical specialist and clinician, but he opted to be a public servant thru and thru. He was president of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, health secretary and twoterm senator. Some still refer to him as the ideal President we never had.

He died on October 30 from multiple organ failure as a result of pneumonia. He also had diabetes. He was 79.

Dr. Flavier is gone; but his humor, wisdom and passion for service live on.

Senators attending the necrological service for the late senator at the session hall of the Senate on November 17 recalled funny moments they shared with him, as they all extolled the virtues of their dedicated colleague.

Senate President Franklin Drilon and other senators referred to their late colleague as a funnyman, mentor, “quorum-maker” and “best friend.” All of them agreed he was a “giant of a man,” a man of integrity and honest public servant and an exemplary husband, father and grandfather.

The urn containing Dr. Flavier’s ashes was brought to the session hall on Monday morning by his widow, Susan, and children for the Senate necrological services. In his eulogy, Sen. Drilon recalled how Dr. Flavier inspired and touched a lot of people’s lives with his gift of humor, while providing an example how “to give their best” in public service.

Even the Senate President was not spared from Dr. Flavier’s ribbing, who referred to him as “Mila’s lechon” referring to the famous lechon maker in La Loma. Mila is also the first name of Sen. Drilon’s wife.

When they were campaigning together, Sen. Sergio Osmeña II recalled the diminutive health chief always brought the house down, a veritable crowd drawer like a famous stand-up comedian.

Sen. Loren Legarda, who was Dr. Flavier’s Senate seat mate, shared a funny moment when they had a photo session with some indigenous people. Hailing from the Mountain Province, he also considered himself part of the indigenous group. But when asked to wear the same outfit as the group to the session hall, the senator refused saying, “No, because Loren might be distracted by my white butt.”

Sen. Pia Cayetano gave her share of reminiscences of Dr. Flavier who she called as his teacher and a father.

“We shared a common passion for healthcare. He was the teacher and I was the student. I had dreams and aspirations; he had wisdom and experience. I had a passion for healthcare. He had the medical degree and expertise,” she was quoted in an Inquirer report.

Sen. Flavier gladly turned over to her the stewardship ofthe Senate Health Committee. She recalled that when antagonistic lobby groups blocked some of her key legislative efforts, Sen. Flavier advised her to just relax and not to be bothered by these lobby groups. “Let them convulse,” he told her.

“You had to know him to understand what he meant. He could say this because he had earned the people’s respect. He could say this because people knew he didn’t mean it in an insulting way. It was just his way of putting his foot down with a bit of humor mixed in,” Sen. Legarda explained. No one certainly doubted Dr. Flavier’s good faith and sincere intentions for everyone.

Although Dr. Flavier was no longer holding any public service position when key laws such as the Sin Tax, Reproductive Health and Tobacco Graphic Health Warning laws were passed, Sen. Cayetano believed the late senator provided the pioneering work and “foundation and should forever be a part of the legislative history of these laws,” she said.

Although it may have been an odd picture to imagine, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago called Flavier her “best friend” in the Senate. She considered her “best friend” as a cut above the rest. When she denounced pork barrel kickbacks early in her Senate stint, exposing contractors who offered her kickbacks for allocating her pork barrel funds to them, Sen. Flavier was the only one who stood up and backed her up.

“But foolish me, after my speech, there was no interpellation and no comment from anybody. Nobody spoke, except for one man: Sen. Juan Flavier. With an offended expression, he rose to affirm my accusation of corruption in the Senate,” Sen. Santiago recalled.

“If Senator Flavier did not have the courage and 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,” she added.

Sen. Flavier always saved the constitution of a quorum in Senate committee meetings. Many meetings would have been cancelled or postponed if not for his always timely attendance.

“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,” Sen. Santiago said.

Among the many roles Sen. Flavier had played, he emerged as a “giant of a man” whose monumental achievements “made him stand out from the rest,” Sen. Drilon said.

For all Filipinos, especially the poor and sick, he will always be their “champion,” Sen. Drilon affectionately said of their departed colleague.

Vital Signs Issue 69 Vol. 3, November 1-30 2014