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Going Home Again Becomes Mission of Mercy for Dr. Jenny

January 25, 1987|GERALD FARIS | Times Staff Writer

Dr. Jenny L. Batongmalaque left her native Philippines more than 20 years ago--before Ferdinand Marcos came to power.She recalls a progressive country that had a sense of justice.

When she went back during the Christmas holidays, Batongmalaque said she was so shocked by what she found in Manila's slums and in the depressed agricultural province of Negros that she could not talk about it for a few days.

"I was appalled, it was so abysmal," said the 46-year-old physician, who lives in Rancho Palos Verdes and practices in Torrance and Los Angeles. "That word kept coming back, and I said, 'How could this have happened?' "

She spoke of seeing severe "skeleton and pot belly" malnutrition cases and of families living in shacks built on top of refuse dumps in the sprawling Manila slum of Tondo, which is the size of Torrance.

It was not supposed to be a pleasure trip. Batongmalaque was there with nine other health professionals, including seven other native Filipinos, who are involved in a foundation she heads that seeks to provide humanitarian aid to the Philippines. The foundation was set up last September, after the fall of Marcos prompted her and others to see what they could do to help the troubled country.

Making the trip were three doctors, a public health expert, a nurse, a pharmacist, a psychologist and a medical administrator. They paid their own $1,000 per-person costs, Batongmalaque said.

The group surveyed 1,200 children under the age of 5, she said, and found that 82% of the youngsters in Tondo are malnourished. She said data from other areas the groups visited probably will be comparable.

"Some have that glazed, listless look," she said. "People think it's apathy, but it is the listlessness of hunger."

The team recorded the children's height, weight and age as well as a family medical and dietary history. In addition, the children were tested for signs of blindness. Incidents of some degree of blindness were almost as high as those of malnutrition, she said.

Aside from malnutrition, the group also found significant levels of pneumonia, various gastrointestinal illnesses and tuberculosis.

"It's all over the place," she said, adding that in one area, there was an outbreak of measles and mothers told her the children had not had inoculations for three years.

Although the trip was billed as a fact-finding mission, the group took along a cache of donated supplies that the Philippine health ministry said were needed. Items included medical equipment such as blood-pressure apparatus and surgical instruments, multivitamins, drugs and such basic supplies as disposable syringes, gauze and bandages. Many items were donated by Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance.

'Grass-Roots' Group

Batongmalaque--known as Dr. Jenny both by her friends and professionally--heads the AMOMA Foundation, which she describes as a "grass-roots" group formed last September to give individuals a way to aid the Philippines in cooperation with the government of President Corazon Aquino. ( Amoma is a Filipino-Visayan word meaning "to assist," but it is also is being used as an acronym for "Any Manpower or Monies Appreciated.")

"We formed a foundation in order to make ourselves a credible group on a long-term basis, not just a relief project," she said.

After analyzing all of its research data, the foundation will decide how it can best help the Philippines, Dr. Jenny said. The foundation wants to be a "conduit of information" for individuals who wish to assist the Philippine people, and may also do projects of its own, she said.

One way it could help, she said, is to raise money and send it to the Philippines for distribution by a civic and church task force--"people we have met and trust." She also wants to work with the UCLA School of Public Health to develop a proposal for funds through the Child Survival Fund maintained by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Help Welcomed

Delia Goggins, a Philippine-born registered nurse who went on the trip, said the best approach may be to set up an AMOMA Foundation in the Philippines that would be accountable for donations and supplies that are sent.

Goggins, who lives in West Los Angeles and owns a home health-care service, said Filipinos trying to help their country "welcome help (from outsiders) if it is done in a coordinated manner."

After obtaining her medical degree in the Philippines and coming to the United States in 1966, Dr. Jenny went into family practice in Torrance and Los Angeles and later became an activist in the Filipino community, which is centered in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles. She is divorced and has an 18-year-old son.

Among other things, she helped start a mobile dental clinic there.

Impossible Under Marcos

Although she went back to the Philippines on three previous visits, Dr. Jenny said something like AMOMA was impossible under Marcos.

"Now we feel that President Aquino is encouraging everybody to help," she said.

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