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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

entry arrow1:16 PM | A Life of Service, Perseverance -- and Art

Dr. Romeo P. Ariniego, the 2010 Outstanding Sillimanian Awardee for Medicine, started collecting art in 1979 while doing medical training in Sydney, Australia. The painting—an abstract work that seems to be that of a fowl with a paintbrush—was by an Australian artist, and what drew Dr. Ariniego in to the artwork was its essential “difference.” It spoke to him then, and that painting has since become the cornerstone of an outstanding collection of fine art, which includes paintings, sculptures, masks, and religious icons, which he has intuitively collected over thirty years.

That taste for the fine arts was nurtured, Dr. Ariniego admitted, while reading art books at the Silliman Library while still a working student in the university, and from the pages of these books, he came to admire the works of Monet and Degas.

Ultimately, that burgeoning love for art led him to his collection of local works, which began in 1984 when he bought a series of paintings by Jose T. Joya for just P7,000. Since then, he has collected almost a hundred works by Jose T. Joya, Hernando R. Ocampo, Ernie Verroya, Solomon Saprid, Emmanuel Garibay, and other painters.

And now he has bequeathed his current collection to Silliman University.

Dr. Ariniego graduated from Silliman University with a degree of Bachelor of Science in 1967. He has served the De La Salle-Health Sciences Campus (DLS-HSC) University Medical Center in various capacities, including Chief of the Cardiovascular Division. A well-known practitioner in his field, he has authored and co-authored several scholarly publications, and has received several awards from 1972 to 2009, including the Distinguished Service Award from the Philippine Heart Association, the National Lorenzo M. Tañada CHIMES Award from De La Salle Philippines, and the International Health Professional Distinction, which he received in Cambridge, England.

But he started from humble origins. An incident in childhood proved vital in his later success. In a monograph published to celebrate Dr. Ariniego’s life and taste for the arts, we learn that he was in fifth grade in his hometown of Vigan, Ilocos Sur when he saw how his family, frantic over the conditions of a sick uncle, decided to call for the family doctor. “It proved to be a life-changing experience,” the book says. “The boy was awed at how the doctor was able to calm down and reassure the family that he decided then and there that he would become a doctor when he grew up. It seemed to be an impossible dream. Sending a child to medical school was impossible for Romy’s parents who had to raise eight other children from their meager earnings as laundrywoman and market helper.

“With two siblings still in high school, Romy had to stop schooling after graduating from grade school. Fate intervened through a classmate, the son of an American missionary assigned in Vigan. The American family invited Romy to work as part of the household staff, and helped him finish high school.”

But he could not finance himself to go through a preparatory medical education. And so he decided to forego the dream for a while, and enrolled in a business course at the University of the East. He worked during the day at a cigarette factory, and delved into zealous study at night. But his dream of becoming a medical doctor did not abate him.

“One day,” the book continues, “Romy chanced upon an advertisement by Silliman University offering a free work-and-study program. He immediately resigned from the factory, and to his surprise, his boss and fellow workers all pitched-in to raise the money he needed for his transportation to Dumaguete City, and for a semester’s tuition at Silliman. At Silliman, he worked at various jobs—messenger, gardener, dormitory assistant—and soon finished his pre-med course in three years.

“On his last year in college, Romy was able to get a grant for his medical education through the help of a American missionary faculty at Silliman. Having enough money for tuition, Romy was able to concentrate on his studies at the College of Medicine of the University of the Philippines. He continued his residency training and fellowship at the Philippine General Hospital. His appointment as Chief Resident was a recognition of his hard work and excellence as a physician. He underwent further training in cardiology in Sweden, and in geriatric cardiology in Australia.

“In spite of the tempting job offers in Sweden and Australia, Romy chose to return to the Philippines. Since his residency, Romy wisely used a part of his salary to buy stocks in private hospitals where he planned to set-up his practice. This tipped off the legendary Dr. Paulo Campos who had a keen sense for people with great potential. As soon as Romy returned from Australia, Dr. Campos promptly invited him to be the cardiologist in his new hospital in Dasmariñas. Thinking that it was in a plush village in Makati, Romy quickly accepted his invitation. To this day, Romy does not know whether the astute businessman intentionally forgot to mention that he was referring to a town in Cavite. Being the gentleman that he is, Romy kept his word and practiced in what was then a very rural Cavite.

“It did not take long for Dr. Ariniego’s practice to flourish. The Caviteños, especially the elderly, quickly developed a deep trust for the new doctor. The long line of patients who continue to wait patiently outside Romy’s clinic attest to the kind of doctor that this once struggling student had become.”

He has translated much of this success to helping many students achieve their dreams of becoming medical professionals with generous scholarships—so generous that for many of these students, Dr. Ariniego is not only just a benefactor, he has also become family.

He has already donated his house in Dasmariñas to De La Salle University, for it to become the future house of medical scholars of that school. That, plus a medical library he has built for the school, is part of his medical legacy.

For Silliman, the legacy he wants to leave behind is this other side of him: the art lover. And through this, he hopes some other student—reminiscent of his own student days poring over art books in the library—would gain a similar glimpse of joy in art, and follow the path he found himself treading. And for that, Silliman University is grateful.

Part of Dr. Ariniego’s art collection will be exhibited at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium Foyer Gallery in a show titled Gasa sa Kakugi from August 19 to September 29.

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