The start of a history-in-the-making: The Philippine Medical Association (PMA) welcomes to its home a group of Filipino traditional/indigenous healers

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The office and grounds of the PMA that stands in North Avenue, Quezon City is considered the Mecca, a sacred ground, for health service providers like traditional/indigenous healers.

PMA Grounds

The Philippine Medical Association at North Avenue, Quezon City

For the first time, PMA opens its doors to the latter for greater unity and future collaborations.

I learned all these through a conversation happening at our table when two of the brains of the event sat with us – Joselito (Joey) Gutierrez, President of the United Healers League of the Philippines, Inc. (UHLPI) and Dr. Michael Aragon, the Executive Director of PMA.

According to them, it was more than just being one foot in. After all, the present healers during the Symposium on Effective Chronic Pain Management: Conventional Medicine and Beyond were not just the traditional “hilots and babaylans” but also the trusted “albularyos and espiritistas” in the communities from the rural areas.

We all roughly know how the political dynamics are between doctors and traditional healers. Historically, it was the early PMA during the 1960s that condemned the methods of the traditional healers. PMA even went on a witch hunt “almost” and sued traditional healers for their ways of healing.

Knowing this and considering our own experiences in the communities (i.e. doctors and nurses), hearing doctors talk about paranormal and things that can’t be seen is really more than just a breath of fresh air.

These doctors believe that there are things that can’t be explained by science alone much like prayers that have no scientific basis but are said and believed by people (including doctors themselves).

One of the doctors who spoke like this was Dr. Christian Mancao of UHLPI, both a medical doctor and a healer. He animatedly address the 80+ participants of the symposium. His contribution to both the science and tradition of healing was the Mancao Myotherapy (a Filipino innovation), a 15-seconder relief of chronic pain, which he all too willingly demonstrated before us. I myself experienced it. Personally, I can say that it is more of a realigning of your body into a balance.

This was also my first time to have seen and heard Dr. Juvencio F. Ordoña, the Director of the attached agency, Philippine Institute for Traditional and Alternative Healthcare (PITAHC) of the Department of Health (DOH). Finally, there’s a face to the name.

Our Sub-cluster in the Alternative Budget Initiative Health Cluster (ABI-HEALTH), Health Promotions and Integrative Healthcare, have been meaning to arrange a meeting with the agency and talk about collaborations and partnerships. Our ultimate goal is to strengthen, support and contribute to the agency’s work and hopefully increase its budget once programs have been crafted and/or improved. Now I can report back to the group and say for sure what PITAHC has been doing all along. Based on what I have heard him say, PITAHC is doing some sort of organizing and regulatory work among traditional healers and basically fulfilling its mandate of promoting traditional and alternative healthcare.

My question to Sir Joey (UHLPI) was that how come it took a long while for the healers (maybe until now) to partner with PITAHC if it’s really doing its mandate. His simple answer was that healers look at the government differently. When doctors opened their doors to healers and organized the symposium, 80+ participants responded to the call. For the healers, the opening of doors was like bridging the gap and some sort of reconciliation on the part of the doctors. He even animatedly shared that when PITAHC invited healers to a seminar before, complete with FREE transport and board and lodging, only 40 participants responded versus PMA’s symposium of 80 participants and each had to pay PhP500.

Another explanation of Sir Joey was that PITAHC usually promotes those healing modalities that sprung from other cultures such as: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where the practice of Acupuncture and Tai Chi are related; Homeopathy; and, Ayurveda to some extent since there are those clinics focus on the practice of the latter here in the country.

From what I gathered and understood, our very own traditional healers are longing for recognition not for themselves but for the Filipino traditional/indigenous healing methods they have been using for centuries.

Health agencies like PITAHC are after evidence-based healing modalities. This is understandable, of course. However, there are other methodologies that cannot be explained by science alone as mentioned earlier. To illustrate, out of the 10 healing modalities used by our healers, only one usually passes the registration of PITAHC. The one that is evidence-based. From what I understood, this discourages our healers.

The Event

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The Symposium on Effective Chronic Pain Management “The Conventional Medicine and Beyond” organized by the Philippine Society for Bones and Joints, Inc. was greeted with a fact that about 70% of Filipinos seek the services of traditional healers as against the 30% who went to a medical doctor.

This is because traditional healers are the ones present in the communities and at the same time people have no economic means to seek the services of doctors.

Dr. Juvencio F. Ordona, the Director General of Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC)

Dr. Juvencio F. Ordona, the Director General of the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC)

According to Dr. Ordoña, the keynote speaker for yesterday’s symposium, PITAHC was established primarily to promote traditional and alternative healing modalities; organize and regulate traditional healers to weed off those who commit fraud and deception for profit.

Currently, they are in the process of drafting the guidelines for registration after which these would proceed to the UP School of Law for examination whether there are problematic provisions (i.e. constitutionality). More on my personal thoughts on this at the later part of the article.

On a side talk with the brains of the event, a meeting with the Secretary of the Department of Health will soon be arranged. Another plan is for the PMA to take under its wings as a member the UHLPI. This is to show that the doctors are not anymore the foe but a partner in healing. Moreover, PMA will help in making way for the integration of traditional/indigenous healing modalities into the Universal Healthcare system to be serviced by the traditional healers.

Hopefully, PITAHC will also be of help and support the endeavor. After all, the director seemed to be serious in the work it is doing. He is also one of those believing in the paranormal, a part and parcel of Filipino traditional healing. He even reiterates the need to respect each other’s modalities and harness unity among the diverseness of our healing practices, which are mostly based in culture.

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Dr. Christian Mancao of the United Healers League of the Philippines, Inc. (UHLPI)

The same fact was re-echoed when Dr. Mancao took on the stage. According to him, the World Health Organization(WHO) recognized the trust given by the people to traditional healers. Therefore, one of its earlier recommendations was to integrate traditional healers and healing modalities into the healthcare system, specifically in primary care, through the formulation of policies.

Here are some excerpts from the Beijing Declaration adopted by the WHO Congress on Traditional Medicine, Beijing, China, 08 November 2008:

I.  The knowledge of traditional medicine, treatments and practices should be respected, preserved, promoted and communicated widely and appropriately based on the circumstances in each country.

II. Governments have a responsibility for the health of their people and should formulate national policies, regulations and standards, as part of comprehensive national health systems to ensure appropriate, safe and effective use of traditional medicine.

 III. Recognizing the progress of many governments to date in integrating traditional medicine into their national health systems, we call on those who have not yet done so to take action.

IV. Traditional medicine should be further developed based on research and innovation in line with the “Global strategy and plan of action on public health, innovation and intellectual property” adopted at the Sixty-first World Health Assembly in resolution WHA61.21 in 2008. Governments, international organizations and other stakeholders should collaborate in implementing the global strategy and plan of action.

 V. Governments should establish systems for the qualification, accreditation or licensing of traditional medicine practitioners. Traditional medicine practitioners should upgrade their knowledge and skills based on national requirements.

VI. The communication between conventional and traditional medicine providers should be strengthened and appropriate training programmes be established for health professionals, medical students and relevant researchers. 

Also important to point out in the declaration is that they connect this to the International Conference on Primary Health Care at Alma Ata thirty years ago. This conference declared that people have the right and duty to participate individually and collectively in the planning and implementation of their health care, which may include access to traditional medicine.

 What’s interesting about his talk, apart from the fact that he is a doctor who believes in the traditional healing methods, was that he also spoke of how doctors like him and drug medicine have been causing people immense pain and suffering. These are best shown in his slide presentations:

A quote from Sir William Osler, a Canadian physician, considered as the Father of Modern Medicine.

A quote from Sir William Osler, a Canadian physician, considered as the Father of Modern Medicine.

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Putting these in the proper context today, Dr. Mancao does not reject medicine administration and so as the other doctors who spoke. They are instead presenting more options for people to choose from other than drug (chemical-based) medication. Herbal medicine, though they are natural, also needs proper administration.

After all, herbal medicines are still medicines. In fact, they are taught to our SARILAYA Community Health Workers (CHWs) in the area during their herbal-making preparation sessions with registered health institutions (i.e. Holy Family in Cavite). It is important to understand this because we do not blindly promote herbal medicines and all-natural products. Our CHWs know what herbal plants give harmful effects and thus, use of such should be done with caution (e.g. of plants with harmful effects: Kompre, Adelfa, Lantana, Chichirikan, Talampunay, Pandakake).

“Paracetamol are very toxic,” Dr. Mancao expressed. He explained that these medicines are made of acids and to make them a critical threat to your health, you just have to consume at least 12.5 grams or 25 tablets of Paracetamol drugs. He proceeded to claim that what is created in the body is injury and illness. Pain, however, is a creation of the mind.

After his slide presentation, Dr. Mancao showed his 15-second immediate relief to participants through a demonstration. In the afternoon, his team also took on the rest of the participants who want to experience realignment and relief. I tried it myself and I felt realigned by the neck. I heard a sound when my back bones were massaged and realigned. Further stretching was also done to me. To some, their method hurts due to years of non-stretching.

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A demonstration of the Mancao Myotherapy, a Filipino Innovation

As parting words and I believe the best words he uttered in his entire presentation, Dr. Mancao humbly said how he can still learn more from the Filipino indigenous healers who are more experienced in the field than he is. He also offered information, knowledge and capacity sharing opportunities with indigenous healers for future collaboration.

 

“We are healers of man, not sickness.” 

Another remarkable speaker of the day was Engr. Bibiano Fajardo, a traditional Hilot for chronic pain. It was my first time to hear about “Hilot” being explained in a scientific way through his presentation. See his slides below:

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Engr. Bibiano Fajardo, a Chemical Engineer turned "Hilot"/Healer

Engr. Bibiano Fajardo, a Chemical Engineer turned “Hilot”/Healer

In his presentation, he explained how he started to be exposed to healing. It was in 1964 through a celebrity medium. If my memory serves me right, he or his mother wanted to talk to his dead father and was able to. From then on, he began his journey as a healer rubbing elbows with the likes of Nardong Putik and those who use “agimat” or amulets.

He also shared his discussions with patients and the oldies of how Cancer was not a common illness in the earlier days. He said that because of the many protein-rich foods (animal products) we eat nowadays, our bodies have problems in processing the proteins. As a result they form a nitrogenous substance that contributes to the making of uric acid, the food of the cancer cells.

In their community, they also found out that herbs/herbal plants can strengthen electro-neuro conductivity or “pagpapadaloy ng kuryente sa katawan” in Filipino. In my own personal understanding, this conductivity is important for proper blood circulation. Examples of herbal plants that can do these are: Makahiya (Scientific Name: Mimosa Pudica) and Acacia (Scientific Name: Samanea saman Jacq Merr).

Engr. Fajardo is currently the President of the Association of Traditional Health Aid Givers Philippines Inc. (ATHAG). Their community is open for trainings on “Hilot” and Herbal Medicine Preparations.

 

From Bali, Indonesia to North EDSA, Quezon City (PMA Office): My own personal thoughts

After being inspired by the work of health advocates in public health and climate change in Bali, Indonesia, as soon as my plane touched down Manila, I immediately went to participate in the activity of PMA through my good friend and healer, Bong dela Torre.

I and my friend Bong

I and my friend Bong

I was so grateful for him because he let me witness this history-in-the-making.

While I salute the progress of the work done for the recognition of traditional/indigenous healing modalities in the activity, I would like to raise some constructive points and recommendations to improve on the work:

  • In a reconciliation process, the first step is dialogue and trust-building. The program of the activity could have been much better if the healers have a fair hand in the program.
  •  In addition to bullet no. 1, the program would have been better appreciated if more healers speak either as resource speakers or in a buzz session/open discussion facilitated by the healers themselves.
  • More doctors attending the event could have added more credibility to the reconciliation process between the medical professionals and traditional/indigenous healing community.
  • I also hope that next time, more healer’s group will be able to participate (e.g. Philippine College for the Advancement of Medicine Foundation-PCAM, Dr. Jaime Dyliaco, etc.).
  • I fervently hope that the PMA membership of the healers’ group (UHLPI) will be more than just a token membership but rather a genuine partnership between medical professionals and indigenous healers.
  • In the guidelines being set by PITAHC (as mentioned by Dr. Ordoña in his presentation) for the registration/regulation of healers, it would be better if they could still consult the latter on how to best regulate their ranks. Genuine healers would know how to weed out those who are using the name of traditional healing for fraud and deception.

There is so much to improve in the work but I believe this is the beginning of a new partnership between medical professionals and those who offer traditional/indigenous ways of healing. I know this is just the first gathering. My recommendations are for consideration in the next steps to come.

In addition, I will be starting to engage with PITAHC together with the other civil society organizations (CSOs) and health advocates. Definitely, this event including the endeavors of partnership between medical professionals and healers will be a part of our advocacy so that this will be sustained in the long run.

I also believe that while evidence and scientific-based medicine have its significance and merits. the health sector, particularly the medical profession, should work out on creative ways to process and document the results and effectivity of traditional healing.

Lastly for the partnership to work, conventional medicine must be open to new and creative ways of processing and documenting evidences other than the usual because indigenous healers have very different means. On the other hand, the traditional healing community must likewise recognize the need to explain and document their progress no matter how difficult or linear this maybe for them. Both need the support of each other to help facilitate the processes ahead.

Please read on the Fast Facts about Traditional Medicine Practice in the Philippines.

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3 Responses to The start of a history-in-the-making: The Philippine Medical Association (PMA) welcomes to its home a group of Filipino traditional/indigenous healers

  1. Nice one Joffti, great coverage.

  2. It’s time our Doctors go “beyond” the conventional approach and explore other modalities and welcome new additions to the field of medicine and just rely on western/conventional approach.

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