Stoked by a sincere desire to help, Dr. Timothy Jordan “TJ” Manalang is treading the road less taken by becoming a “Doctor to the Barrios” or a rural physician, serving the underserved in doctor-less areas of the country.
“My mission is to bring healthcare to the barrios because I believe our people deserve easy access to healthcare. I would like to contribute to the process of bridging this gap,” shared Doc TJ.
He first came to Siargao as a tourist, and like most visitors, he immediately fell in love with the island. When he learned that the island had no doctors, he took it as an opportunity to be assigned in Siargao so he could help the community.
As a Manileño in a Bisaya-speaking island, communicating with his local patients was one of the major hurdles that he had to overcome. However, nothing is impossible for Doc TJ, whose heart beats strongly for community service.
Doc TJ’s strengths and limits were put to the test when two huge crises hit the island—the COVID-19 pandemic and Super Typhoon Odette. “When the pandemic hit Siargao, it was difficult, not because we couldn’t do it, but because we didn’t know how to proceed. There was no playbook. The procedures were still not refined at the time,” he said. Communication services were crucial for information to flow from the experts to the grassroots. “If we didn’t have these services, we would not have known what to do here,” he added.
A year later, Super Typhoon Odette wreaked havoc in Siargao, disrupting basic utilities, including communication services. Misinformation involving Siargao spread, with many believing that Odette had wiped out everyone on the island.
“There was a volunteer doctor who came to the island after the typhoon and told me I was in the missing or dead list. Smart’s signal returned less than a week post-Odette and so I was able to communicate with my family. At least, I was able to ease their fears and proved that I was alive,” shared Doc TJ.
The return of Smart’s signal on the island also paved the way for more help to come to Siargao, enabling leaders and experts to relay what was happening on the island. After Odette, Doc TJ and his staff struggled with a cholera outbreak due to the lack of water supply, which led people to drink from deep wells. “If we were not able to communicate our needs, there would have been many more lives lost, especially if help didn’t come the way it did and when it did,” said Doc TJ.
Smart connectivity also enabled Doc TJ to raise funds online for his staff members whose houses were destroyed by Odette. The money gathered was used to buy building materials.
PLDT and Smart’s continued efforts to provide communication in island communities like Siargao has enabled leaders like Doc TJ to effectively serve the community. This also underscores PLDT and Smart’s commitment to help the country attain the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG No. 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities.