How barrio doctor raised responsible social entrepreneurs, educators
He could have been the governor of Batangas to succeed his brother Feliciano “Sanoy” Batangas who administered the province for an unprecedented 24 years from 1947 to 1972; but Dr. Jose Panganiban Leviste of Malvar, Batangas was happiest being a doctor in the barrios, and touching the lives of his province mates with kindness and concern.
Dr. Peping, as he was fondly called, was a surgeon and the medical director of the Caltex Refinery in Bauan, Batangas. But back in those days, he was also the de facto provincial medical officer, being the youngest brother of the Governor. They were close as brothers can be in spite of their 16 year difference in age. Thus, he was also the doctor of the Batanguenos in need—the tenant farmer, the farm hand and their families, the fisherfolk, or just about any barrio folk who would go to him for their medical needs.
Recalling how Dr. Peping’s simple life had honed them to become social entrepreneurs, educators, and responsible businessmen, his children look back to that legacy as their father is remembered on his birth centennial on Feb 4, 2014.
For instance, his eldest child, Jose “Joey” P. Leviste Jr., always has his father’s life lessons hovering over his head when dealing with people in life, and in business. Joey was elected as a Delegate of the Constitutional Convention in 1970 representing the 2nd District of Batangas, and is currently chair of OceanaGold Philippines
“When dealing with people, I am always brought back to my father’s integrity and his sense of fairness. He was very transparent in everything and instilled in us those same values, to deal with people honestly and fairly and help those who have less in life,” recalls Joey, who is also the chair of Enactus Philippines. Enactus is an international nonprofit organization that works with leaders in business and higher education to mobilize university students in 36 countries to make a difference in their communities while developing the skills to become socially responsible business leaders.
To all six surviving Leviste children, it was Dr. Peping’s dedication as a rural doctor that stands tall among their treasure trove of memories.
“Dad performed operations every weekend for people who could not afford it. He created his own affordable cough syrup. He was a surgeon and delivered a lot of babies, he even did my own appendectomy and did not want any other surgeon to do the surgery on his daughter,” recalls Christine Leviste Consunji, former Early Childhood Education director of the International School of the Peninsula in San Francisco, California, and administrator/owner of Always TLC for the Elderly Residences in the Bay Area.
Fifth child Sanny Leviste, who himself was elected as Senior Provincial Board Member of Batangas in a province wide election in 1987, vividly recalls that smooth confidence that Dr. Peping sports as a surgeon.
“He was an excellent surgeon and on his days off, most weekends, he would go to Batangas and do his services for free. People would line up outside his clinic, and he would operate from morning until afternoon. He loved life, and loved learning. He was such a confident surgeon, so when Christiaan Barnard of South Africa did the first human to human heart transplant and made the news in the 60s, Dad said, ‘Show me another and I’ll do the third.” Later in life, even as an expert surgeon, he would continue to review his books on anatomy and surgical procedures,” Sanny shares.
The long queues of pro-bono patients will always pervade the memory of the Leviste children of their father. “If he found out the patient was from Batangas, it would will merit his immediate attention and priority. He was a people’s doctor and he used his healing powers to heal and help, and not as a source of family income. He was lucky though because his mother, my Lola Rufina Panganiban-Leviste was landed and his family were sugar planters and were invested in citrus orchards,” Joey adds.
Second child Monina Leviste-Guanio is an early childhood education specialist now based in the United States. She attests that in her father’s lifetime, Dr. Peping never had a patient who died. “He performed many surgeries for all the Batanguenos who needed help. Rumor had it that if Dr. Leviste sent you to a specialist, that meant you were a terminal case,” Monina shares.
In many ways, he was an unconventional doctor. Youngest child Cari Leviste Azores, A World Bank HR consultant and coordinator of the Friends of the Seven Lakes Foundation, laughs at the memory of her father’s funny way of dealing with attempts by children to absent themselves from school due to stomach ache. “He would simply say ‘pahingi nga ng blade (can I ask for a blade please)’ and the poor child would be terrified back to the peak of health!”, Cari recalls.
Dr. Peping’s sense of humor was legendary. Nephew Titus Leviste Endaya chimes in: “He was always upfront with a terminal patient, he would say things like, “Don’t worry, you still have five days to live!”
A father first
Dr. Peping was called the gentle giant by his wife lawyer Dolores Padua Paredes of Abra and La Union not only because of his height but because of his athletic abilities (he was the captain of the Ateneo de Manila Track and Field Team in 1935), but also because of how he deals with his seven children.
Cecile Leviste Pleno, an entrepreneur who used to export fine bone chinaware, always keeps in mind what Dr. Peping would admonish, in between the long lunches and dinners they would have in their San Lorenzo Village home. “To walk with kings but still have the common touch.” He shared meals with everyone, from President Ramon Magsaysay, as he was the family doctor of the family of the First Lady Luz Banzon Magsaysay, to Senator Sergio Osmena Jr. who was his classmate at the Ateneo, to the barrio captains who came to him, to his driver and friend Mang Ray Jimenez who served him,” Cecile recalls. “My father was good and humble and compassionate to everyone regardless of social status. Social status was of no concern to him.”
Cari tells of how Dr. Peping took her to several operas at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, where her father would patiently explain the story. A man of fine arts and culture, Dr. Peping even spoke French fluently.
Sanny, who is in the faculty of De La Salle Lipa and has taught at the Asian Institute of Management, says Dr. Peping opened his life to the sciences. “He opened up my life to sciences, and to this day, when I teach strategic planning, I apply lessons in biology and environment in corporate life. He taught me that these things are not just found in books, that life is interconnected,” he says. “He also taught me integrity. When I was a kid, there was a big fire in Batangas City, and I happened to be there, walking on the street, when I picked up a toy and brought it home. He saw it and asked me what it was. ‘Where did you get it?’ he asked. ‘Did you buy that?’ When he found out, he told me to get back on the jeep to the site, and return the toy where I found it.”
An avid sportsman who excelled in track in field at the Ateneo de Manila, Dr. Peping passed on the love for chess to his sons Joey and Sanny. In fact, the family consistently supports the chess programs of the Ateneo.
But second child Monina articulates everything that Dr. Peping has left to his children. Their father taught them how to love—especially after their late brother Jessie who had cerebral palsy was born in 1957. Jessie passed away last year.
“That night after my mother took Jessie to a well-known neurologist, my dad came home and I could hear my sobbing mother, Loly, arguing with my dad. Sometimes, I could hear dad’s voice. My mother was doing all the ranting. Well, after the storm calmed, I saw my somber dad come out the room. I did not understand then what was going on but in time my mom got comfortable talking about Jessie, I realized then that my Dad just wanted to spare my mom, whom he loved dearly, the pain of knowing Jessie had cerebral palsy. My dad had always been a brilliant doctor, he was strong, athletic and articulate but he could not verbalize Jessie’s problem to his beloved wife. Jessie became our miracle, our Dad taught us the meaning of love.”
Paying it forward
The children of Dr. Peping now see to it that they live the legacy of their father. In their own capacities, they are paying forward the blessings that they have received because their dad opened doors for them.
On their father’s birth centenary, the Leviste siblings will also go back to their father’s roots in the towns of Malvar and Bauan, Batangas, where they grew up to give a considerable amount of money for programs that are close to their father’s heart: Medical missions and the chess.
Even after his death in 1983, Dr. Peping continues to influence his children and the way they live as parents, as social entrepreneurs, and as professionals. “I teach my kids to live simple lives, to be thrifty so that they can enjoy doing the things they would like to do. Dad knew how to serve others and enjoy himself. I can say he had a full life,” Cecile states.
Hopefully his 16 grandchildren and soon to be five great grandchildren will follow in the footsteps of their Lolo Peping, the gentle giant and rural doctor of Batangas.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.