After graduating from medical school, Remberto Daniel “Bobby” Dela Paz turned his back on a potentially lucrative career in Manila and left for Samar, to set up a community-based health program there for the poor. There he was assassinated by martial law forces.
In the 1970s, Dela Paz was a student activist in UP Diliman and later in medical school. He joined the Samahan ng mga Makabayang Siyentipiko and Liga ng Agham para sa Bayan, and took part in the First Quarter Storm and the Diliman Commune. At the UP College of Medicine, he contributed articles to the newsletter UP Medics, joined the Progresibong Kilusang Medikal, helped organize the Medical Students Society, and volunteered in the college’s outreach program called Klinika ng Bayan.
He spent his required six-month rural medical work in Samar province where he saw the dark reality into which Ferdinand Marcos’ one-man rule had plunged the province. He saw, besides extreme poverty, widespread maltreatment and abuse of citizens. It was a place where medical services were badly needed. Upon becoming a full-ﬂedged doctor in 1978, he returned to the province with his wife Sylvia, also a new physician.
The couple set up the community-based health program and their first clinic in Gandara, Samar. It was open to everyone. Using the Primary Health Care approach, Dela Paz went to remote villages to attend to the sick, teach first aid, basic hygiene and nutrition to community health workers. He used appropriate technology with herbal medicine and acupuncture, and even assembled an acupuncture oscillator made from local materials at minimal cost.
The martial law regime took note of the couple’s activities, and they were labelled as subversives. Threats to their safety became more and more apparent, and friends urged them to leave Gandara.
They did move, but only to nearby Catbalogan City where they resumed their work. “I am a doctor and the only thing I should fear is not being a good one,” were Dela Paz’s memorable words. He explained: “Kami ay mga iskolar ng bayan at nais naming magbahagi ng kaalaman at kasanayan sa taong bayan na katuwang ng pamilyang nagpaaral sa amin.” (The people paid for our education just as much as our families, and we should share our knowledge and skills with them.)
Many poor people came to the Dela Paz clinic for treatment, and some may have been members of the New People’s Army operating in the area; invariably, they left with added knowledge and skills. As a doctor, Bobby dela Paz refused to limit himself only to treating diseases. Instead, he went to the people and lived with them, in the process witnessing the effects of an unjust system upon the health and lives of poor communities, especially the children. He came to the conclusion that when government itself becomes their oppressor, the people have a right to rise up in arms.
Dela Paz was assassinated by a single gunman on April 23, 1982, while he was working in his clinic. For over seven hours at the Samar Provincial Hospital, doctors took turns operating on him to save his life, while his wife Sylvia facilitated blood donations from friends, community health workers and former patients even from nearby islands. Outside the cordoned-off hospital, scores of people, rich and poor, held a vigil and prayed. Dela Paz succumbed just past midnight. He was 29 years old.