Sunday, May 15, 2011

*250. DR. EMIGDIO C. CRUZ: A Doctor's Courage, A Hero's Valor

PAMPANGA'S PRESIDENTIAL DOCTOR. Dr. Emigdio C. Cruz of Arayat, Quezon's personal physician and recipient of the Philippine Congressional Medal of Valor and Distinguished Service Cross for his valiant WWII undergound work.

In 1948, the Philippine Congressional Medal of Valor, the highest award that the Philippine government can give to its citizens, was conferred on a Kapampangan doctor for his “daring resourcefulness and long sustained courage” he displayed at the height of the second World War.

The recipient, only the third to merit the award, was Dr. Emigdio Castor Cruz, of Arayat, who, as a personal physician of Manuel L. Quezon, had accompanied the president-in-exile in the U.S. Already safe in Washington, the doctor volunteered to return to the Philippines to survey the prevailing conditions of war-torn Philippines and to coordinate with key Filipino contacts working against the Japanese. Despite the odds, Dr. Cruz succeeded in his perilous mission.

Emigdio or “Meding” was born from the union of Jacinto Cruz, a rice trader from Malabon, and Andrea Castor, a Portuguese-Filipina whom Jacinto had met in Candaba. The couple settled in Arayat where Emigdio first saw the light of day on 5 August 1898. The Cruz brood numbered 7 in all : (Luis, Cornelio, Emigdio, Vicente, Maria, Jacinta and Maning—the last two died as infants. Fate dealt the family a cruel blow when Andrea died, leaving 5-year old Meding and his siblings mother-less. His father would marry again; second wife Juana Goquingco would give him 2 more children—Cecilio and Rafael.

Meding’s father had a reputation for being an effective ‘herbolario’ in Arayat, and because of this, Jacinto encouraged his children to take up science courses upon finishing their schooling in Arayat. In time, 3 sons (Emigdio, Vicente and Cecilio) would become doctors while Cornelio would earn Ph.Ds in Chemistry and Physics in the U.S.

Meding, himself, went to U.P., finishing a Liberal Arts course in 1923 and Medicine in 1929, at a rather late age of 31. This was because Meding alternately pursued his studies and his love for zarzuela, a passion that led him to tour with a company all over the Philippines. He soon settled down, however, to complete his medical degree, and was one of the topnotchers of the Medical Board exams.

He immediately set up practice in Arayat and it was here that he met his wife, a Philippine Normal College Chinese mestiza beauty named Restituta “Titing” Roque. While Titing taught at the local school, Meding set up a hospital—Arayat General Hospital—which he would serve as its medical director from 1935-38.

Meding’s reputation as an excellent doctor reached Pres. Quezon, who had been looking for a physician for his respiratory illness. He would eventually become the Quezon family physician and was instrumental in convincing the president to invest in a tract of land in Arayat that would be developed into their sugar farm—“Kaledian”.

As Meding’s career prospered, so did his family. The Cruzes had 7 children—Emigdio Jr., Rene, Tristan, twins Norma and Myrna, Jesus and Rita, who sadly died in infancy. Their seemingly-perfect domestic life was shattered with the looming Pacific war that was ignited with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Meding joined the Army and became a Captain of the Medical Corps in 1939. He left Arayat to join Quezon’s medical staff in Corregidor and later, accompany him into exile in the United States, this, without his family’s knowledge.

In the U.S. he attended to the ailing president and took up advanced medical courses. All the while, he longed for field action. The chance came when rumors reached the government-in-exile that Commonwealth officials back in the Philippines had switched allegiance to Japan which had promised the country independence. Worried and embarrassed, Quezon had sent emissaries like Col. Jesus Villamor to return to Manila, only for the flying ace to fail. Meding volunteered to undertake the next mission which included not only validating the rumors but also delivering arms to guerrillas and gathering confidential military information.

He sneaked back to the Philippines from Australia on the submarine USS Thresher, landing in Negros on July 9. There, he met with Negros guerrillas and key officers in different provinces—Sorsogon, Bicol, Lucena, until he reached Manila, even as the Japanese Imperial Army had gotten hold of his presence and were now hot on his trail. His mission culminated with a meeting with Gen. Manuel Roxas, the highest Commonwealth official in the Philippines, who debunked the rumors and confirmed the Filipino’s undying loyalty to America, under Quezon’s leadership.

His underground work finished, he left for Negros on 8 November 1943 and realized his dream of fighting in the war alongside guerillas until February 1944. He left for Brisbane aboard the Australian submarine, Narwhal, where he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Back in the U.S. and now a major in the Army, he was assigned to the Walter Reed Hospital until Quezon’s condition worsened. He accompanied the president to Saranac Lake and was with him when news of MacArthur’s return to the Philippines was aired over the radio, to everybody’s joy. Quezon lived to hear the great news before passing away on 1 August 1944.

After Quezon’s death, Meding lingered in the U.S., doing stints at Walter Reed Hospital, Brunns General Hospital, Ann Arbor University Hospital and the Barnes General Hospital in Missouri. In February 1946, he returned to the Philippines together with the Quezon family. But by then, the peasant revolution and agrarian unrest had replaced the horrors of the past war, and Arayat, his old hometown, was not spared of the violence.

He had entertained the idea of starting anew in Arayat and resuming his practice, but he had no choice but to go to safer grounds. Meding—as well as his siblings--uprooted themselves from Arayat to settle in Manila, building safe havens for their families in Sta. Mesa Heights, Quezon City. What was left of the Cruz land holdings were distributed to their tenants under Marcos’s land reform program.

Near the end of his life, the good doctor would wax nostalgic about his old hometown. He passed away in 1978. Today, a government hospital stands in Arayat—the Dr. Emigdio C. Cruz Medical Center--named after the decorated physician-patriot who played a pivotal part in the wartime history of the country with his gallantry in action and courage that knew no bounds.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this! he is my great grandfather. Thank you for this opportunity to learn more about him :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this! he is my great grandfather. Thank you for this opportunity to learn more about him :)

Anonymous said...

Is "Polly" Meding's other nickname?