Wednesday, August 21, 2013

*340. Dr. Coconut: CONRADO S. DAYRIT M.D

DOCTOR OF RESPECTED GUIDANCE. A cardiologist, pharmacologist and educator, Dr. Conrado Singian Dayrit from San Fernando, was later known to champion the health benefits of coconut, leading people to give him that monicker. His son, Manuel, became a Health Secretary during GMA's term. Ca. 1957.

 As a child, I was afflicted with all sorts of ailments of the serious kind—asthma, pneumonia, respiratory infection, and the worst of all—rheumatic heart disease. I remember missing school for weeks every year, due to my condition, and I still recall the worried looks on my parents’ faces as they shuttled me from one doctor to another. I was always on the edge every time we made those trips to Manila in the 60s because I detested being pricked by needles by nurses, and being poked by stern-faced doctors alone, in their cold examination rooms.

 One doctor stood out, however, for his warm and welcoming presence. He had an office at the new Polymedic Clinic back in the late 60s (now Dr. Victor Potenciano Polymedic Hospital), and I vividly recall our first visit there—because we had to take an elevator—my first ride ever. When I met him, he spoke to me in a calm, unhurried voice and he took his time with me, explaining the tests he would do, assuring me that the electrocardiogram session was not going to be painful at all. Most of all, he would confer with my parents in Kapampangan after, and their conversations would include a lot of family talk in between.

 I would hear later from my mother that Dr. Conrado Singian Dayrit was our Del Rosario “kamag-anak”, so that put me at ease even more. I was also told he was an accomplished doctor, one of the most capable in the country. Sure enough, over the years, I would hear more of Dr. Dayrit and his medical legacy which included being a pharmacologist, heart specialist, medical professor and naturopath.

 He was born on 31May 1919 in Manila, to parents Conrado Sr., (formerly with the Bureau of Public Instruction) and Eufronia Singian. A true-blue Atenean all throughout his elementary, high school and college days, he enrolled at the University of the Philippines and earned his medical degree in 1943. That same year, he passed the board as a topnotcher and was immediately employed as assistant professor at U.P. College of Medicine.

 In 1946, he was named International Fellow in Pharmacology by the Kellogg Foundation and stayed in the U.S. for 2 years. He took his postgraduate studies at the University of Michigan Medical School and the Cornell University Medical College.

 When he got back to the Philippines, Dr. Dayrit resumed his teaching at U.P. In 1955, he was named Officer-in-Charge of the U.P. Department of Physiology. Due to his work at the Philippine General Hospital as a physician to outpatients with cardiovascular problems, he was inspired to found the Philippine Heart Association and served as a member of its Executive Committee from 1952-1958. He has also been a member of the Asian Pacific Society of Cardiology, the Cancer Society, the Manila Medical Society.

 An tireless researcher, Dr. Dayrit has authored many scientific articles on such areas of interest as cardiology, pharmacology and medical education. He made a study on the “bangungot” phenomenon, as well as various papers on heart disease, its medical and surgical treatment as well as the pharmaco-dynamics of various drugs.

His research papers --over 70 of them--have earned for him many awards, including 1st and 2nd prizes for the 1954 and 1955 Manila Medical Society Research Award for Basic Science and Clinical Researches and Best Papers Read at the 49th Annual Meeting of the Philippine Medical Association. He was cited as “The Most Outstanding Young Man In Science” by the Sunday Times Magazine in 1955. In 1977, he was honored with a Gregorio Y. Zara Award in Applied Science by the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science.

He held many important positions that included the presidency of the Federation of Asian Scientific Academies and Societies and of the Philippine National Academy of Science and Technology. He was named an emeritus professor of pharmacology at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine. He would also be a recipient of the Republic Cultural Heritage Award.

 Dr. Dayrit married the former Milagros A. Millar of Lucena, Quezon. They settled in San Juan and raised 5 children: Manuel, Conrado III, Antonio Fabian, Eduardo and Rafael. Eldest son, Manuel, also a doctor, became our country’s Secretary of Health from 2001-2005, under the term of Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

 Later in life, Dr. Dayrit championed the medicinal values of coconut and its by-product, virgin coconut oil especially on its efficacy on HIV, which started a national craze for naturopathy. Quite unexpectedly, our paths would cross again when he was invited to grace the launch of a new coconut based-cooking oil, the advertising of which I handled.

The venerable doctor, now over 80 years old, still commanded respect and awe for his profound knowledge on cardiovascular health. I shyly re-introduced myself to him in Kapampangan and namedropped my parents’ names and my Del Rosario surname, briefly recounting how I became his patient. He broke out in his trademark grin and answered back in crisp Kapampanga, “A wa, kakilala ke I Ma mu, ampo reng Del Rosario, kamag-anak mila..komusta naka?”. That acknowledgement certainly made my day.

 Dr. Conrado S. Dayrit passed away on 5 October 2007, at the very same hospital where he had his clinic for many years.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


ALAK,BABAE, SUGAL. A staged picture of showing the different vices of men--women, alcohol, gambling. Kapampangans had their share of woes and troubles brought about by these abominable excesses. Ca. 1920s.

Kapampangans certainly left indelible impressions on foreign observers and travellers who came to our isles in the 19th century, prompting them to write not just about their virtues, but also their vices, which paint a bi-polar picture of our character, and a culture of extremes that shaped traits and habits that lingers to this day. 

 Writer and traveller Jean Mallat, noted in his opus “The Philippines: History, Geography and Customs” that “the most estimable indios are those in the provinces of Pampanga, Cagayan, Pangasinan, Ilocos and Cebu. They are almost generous, courageous, industrious and capable. Their defects are incessant deceit, and an unbridled passion for gambling, and especially cockfights.” 

 Cockfighting or sabong had always been the traditional gambling sport of Filipinos since the 16th century. Chronicler Antonio Pigafetta wrote about the sport in his “First Voyage Around the World”, noting that the “natives keep large cocks which they never eat, but which they keep for fighting purposes. Heavy bets are made on the upshot of the contest..”. 

 So valued where the fowls that it was said that when a Filipino’s home caught fire, he rescued first, his rooster, then his wife, and children. In 1771, the arch-episcopal palace in Manila ordered the secular clergy to “strive to banish the sport of cockfighting , not sparing any effort to do this..”. Similarly, Gov. Gen. Simon de Anda attempted to ban cockfighting to avoid the upsurge of thefts and robberies—to no avail. 

 After all, by 1779, the game was contributing significantly to government revenues, with earnings of over Php 30,000, even during time of War. As such, sabong operators were given permits to operate even on Sundays. Kapampangans took to the sports like crazy, and their shady reputation as bigtime sabungeros with political clout still prevails to this day. Almost every Pampanga town have their own coliseums, but specially Guagua, Mexico, Lubao and Bacolor are considered as sabong centers of the province today. 

 After cockfighting, the colonial government added in 1849, the loteria (lottery) as an official means to keep the coffers of the government full and to keep the Filipinos hopeful for a richer life. Before that, card games were all the rage in the archipelago, that included “panguingue”, a form of rummy originally from Mexico and “monte”. Then there was the “cuajo”, which was noted to be “favorable among Pampangos”. 

 But nothing was more popular than ”jueteng”, an illegal numbers game that originated in China and which caught on in the province like wildfire. Easy to play, one need only to call on a “kubrador” discreetly as he trod the neighborhood street. One then places a bet (as low as 10 pesos) on a chosen pair of numbers from 1 to 37. 

 Pampanga has often been described as “the Vatican of jueteng”. This was spurred by a political scandal in June 2005 in which relatives of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were suspected to have received pay-outs from jueteng operators, led by Bong Pineda of Lubao (husband of incumbent governor) and an alleged jueteng kingpin in 5 regions of the country. 

 Before the advent of San Miguel Beer and “markang demonyu”, Kapampangans in Minalin, and Sasmuan were already making native liquor of all sorts, like tuba and lambanug, all from coconut. Chinese distillers, however, proved to be master mixers, using Pampanga’s molasses from pilones. They supplied outlets with their intoxicating firewater, animating Kapampangans’ social sprees while dazing minds. In the 1930s, one can go to Salva’s Canteen in Angeles to buy all kinds of liquor, including whiskey and beer. 

 The illicit sale of liquor became widespread when the American population in Clark started to grow. A “Rum Row”existed in Clark as early as the 1930s, in which local entrepreneurs made rum for illegal sale to Americans. Homesick military men, out for a cheap, good time, took to heavy drinking, often resulting in some unfortunate accidents. For instance, on the night of January 23, 1938, five drunk officers figured in a car crash that resulted in the death of four; only the driver survived. Where wine is, a woman can’t be too far behind. 

 The lure of the flesh was another “evil” that Kapampangans find irresistible. A safe destination to meet girls in the Commonwealth years was the Amusement Palace Cabaret, operated by Juan Cortez in Angeles, which would soon be a hotspot for carnal knowledge. One of the rites of passage male teens dare to undergo is to hie off to the notorious “Area”, a place where one can have himself devirginized in a jiffy. Angeles was once described as “an amazing pattern of brothels, gin mills and dance halls” , during the heyday of Clark. 

Things appear to be unchanged if one were to believe eyewitness online accounts: ”Balibago is a non-stop drunken revel 7 days a week, every day of the year. Recreational sex is the sport of choice. If you are looking for a new friend for the night, you can almost certainly find a young lady to suit your taste..” 

 Alak, babae, sugal. For many Kapampangans, life is too short to go without a bisyu. Lead him not into temptation…he will find his way.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE. A new mom bottlefeeds her baby, who is all swaddled in clothes, as was typical practice in the 1920s.

Birthing rituals are rooted in many cultures, and in Pampanga, there are folk beliefs and practices attendant to the delivery of a baby and his period of infancy and many more traditional customs observed in this important life event.

 An expectant mother, for example, is discouraged from eating twin bananas, as this may result in the birth of twin babies. A mother should also finish the food on her plate so that everything will come out during delivery, leaving her womb clean. If someone ate her leftovers, he will suffer bouts of sleepiness and drowsiness at work. Cutting her hair during pregnancy is not also advisable as the baby will be prone to baldness.

To avoid a difficult delivery, a pregnant woman should not have her house remodelled during her term and should avoid watching scary movies, lest her baby is aborted. Nor should she wear tight clothes so as not to deform the fetus. Participation in funeral activities is also a no-no. It is believed that both mother and child’s well being were dependent on the kinds of food she eats during her term.

To promote healthy eating, she should eat a diet of rice, monggo beans, raw eggs (for strength during labor), pigs tail ( for fetal movement) and kalamunding, a local citrus, so that her baby will have a flawless complexion. Scratchy root crops like taro or gabi should be excluded from her diet because it would cause her perineal area to itch.

 A child’s gender was determined by the way the mother looked during her pregnancy. If a mother’s tummy was set high and is pointy, the baby will be a boy. If a mother looked beautiful all throughout her term, the baby will definitely be a pretty baby girl. Pre-natal care rituals were the domain of women, and during health screenings, an infanticipating mother was often accompanied by a female family member rather than her husband. In rural areas, women turned to the local comadrona (midwife) or a female hilot to assist in the delivery.

 To ease a woman’s labor, windows and doors were flung wide open. A bath before delivery is thought to facilitate the birth of a child. In one barrio of Guagua, relatives of a woman about to give birth make noises (shouting, beating tin cans and exploding firecrackers) to help expel the baby faster. Children born on a Sunday were favored with a rich, long life. They were thought to be safe from from drowning and hanging. Those born on midnight, old folks say, will be brave, while those who come inot the world at the break of dawn will have short tempers.

 In the first few months of his life, a baby was looked after and doted on unlike any other. If a baby suffered from hiccups, a water-soaked cotton ball was placed on his fontanel to relieve him. A baby’s sneezing fit foretell the coming of rain. To keep him from harm’s way, babies are kept in the house in the belief that they are not yet fully protected. It is not good for a visiting person to praise a baby as this is thought to bring “usug” ( a spell of bad luck), making him cranky and sickly. To ward off “usug” and evil elements, a dot of red lipstick is dabbed on a baby’s forehead.

 A baby had to be baptized in the first six months of his life. In Mexico, Pampanga, the baby is brought to the church by a group of boys and girls, borne on a gareta (carabao cart), accompanied by a band. All expenses are paid for by the godparents. During the christening of a child, the godfather must give money to the “hilot”; otherwise the baby will always be afflicted with sore eyes.

 Bringing a baby into this world entails responsibilities that can often test the mettle, patience and endurance of parents. But for a Kapampangan mom, a baby is the center of her universe; fulfilment comes from raising him, nurturing him, watching him grow. It is a 24/7 role that she has come to embrace, and if there ever was a slogan to capture this unconditional maternal commitment, it’s got to be this—with apologies to Gerber’s-- “Babies are our business…our only business!”.