A friend’s thoughts on colleagues, medical missionaries, lost in crash

By: Dr. Philip S. Chua January 22,2018 - 11:16 PM



Ten medical missionaries from the United States returned to the Philippines to do their regular annual medical missions.

Their destination this time was to be Camiguin province.

This mission would forever alter their fate.

Dr. Nunilo Rubio Sr.

The medical team had earlier rented a van with a driver for their trip to Camiguin, the second smallest province located in the Bohol Sea, about 10 kilometers off the northern coast of Mindanao.

Its capital is Mambajao, popular for the “sweetest” lanzones in the country.

On that fateful Saturday morning of January 20, 2018, they had visited the town of Oslob, world-famous for giant whale sharks, about 118 kilometers south of Cebu.

On their way to Kawasan Falls in Badian, going through the tiny town of Alegria, their Toyota Grandia van crashed into a mahogany tree by the street.

Seven missionaries were killed, and three severely injured. The driver, Gilbert dela Cruz, who owned the van, admitted to Alegria Police that he fell asleep while on the wheel.

Two of the victims were my good friends, Doctors Nunilo Rubio Sr. and Elenita Rubio of Chicago, Illinois. Nunilo died on the spot while Elenita suffered multiple fractures.

The other survivors are Fred and Leonor Tsai, business personalities also from Chicago, who sustained severe injuries.

The other six fatalities were Joseph and Juvelia Huang, Rey and Diana Pascual, Berniti Roxas, and Aurora M. Gagni of Illinois.

Nunilo, a renowned endocrinologist in Illinois; Elenita, an internist; and their son, Noel, also an internist, who was not with Nunilo and Elenita on this trip, are with the RIIS Park Family Health Center in Chicago.

Nunilo, who hailed from Cavite, had his residency and Fellowship at the Hines VA Hospital and Loyola Stritch School of Medicine. He together with Elenita, who is a UST medical alumna, was active in the Filipino-American medical organizations in Chicago.

A member of FEU medical Class ’67, Nunilo graduated with honors.

He was soft-spoken and exuded humility, despite his impressive credentials, which included an award as FEU Most Outstanding Medical Alumnus in 1992, “Top 10 Doctors in Chicago Metro” from Castle Connoly Guide in 2002, the Gintong Pamana Award as Outstanding Parents in 2008, and a dozen others.

He was a frequent lecturer in medical meetings.

Nunilo specialized in the management of diabetes, thyroid and other endocrine diseases.

He was affiliated with Presence Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center, Presence Mercy Medical Center and Presence Resurrection Medical Center.

He had been in practice for 51 years and had been rated 5-stars by his patients.

Elenita is a former clinical instructor at Loyola Stritch School of Medicine and as attending physician in the Metabolic Ward of Hines VA Hospital, both in Maywood, Illinois.

She was a recipient of The Most Distinguished Physician of the Philippine Medical Association of Chicago. Nunilo and Elenita have one grandchild, Nunilo Ethan Rubio III, son of Nunilo Jr.

In their desire to give back to their nativeland, the Philippines, Nunilo and Elenita, like countless other medical missionaries, had been ministering to the health needs of their underserved fellow Filipinos through their medical missions.

Our team from Las Vegas is flying to Manila at the end of January to do two medical missions, the first in Alaminos, Laguna, and then at Kamay ni Hesus pilgrimage site in Lucban, Quezon.

Like the hundreds of other medical missions from around the world regularly serving the Philippines and other countries, the missionaries spend for their own international airfare, housing accommodation, meals, local transportation, medicines, medical supplies, and equipment, to lend a helping hand to their marginalized kababayan.

To them, these endeavors are privileges they enjoy for being healthy and blessed enough to be able to express their love of and caring for our poor fellowmen.

We all mourn the passing of our friends and the suffering of the surviving victims of this tragedy. As humans, we are all diminished when even one life is lost.

To them, the survivors, and their families go our prayers. May our departed brothers and sisters walk with God.

Despite tragedies like this, humanitarian medical missions will go on and flourish as long as compassion burns in the hearts of men and women of goodwill anywhere in the world.

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