'Kalanguya' nurse aids tribal folk

STA. FE, Nueva Vizcaya—Being a nurse has brought Leticia Puguon to international conventions abroad, but she is never remiss in visiting her fellow tribal Ikalahan folk in this upland town and bringing free medical services to them.

In fact, regular visits to the upland barangay of Imugan and its neighboring villages to help treat the Ikalahan and other residents there is no longer a challenge for Puguon, 62, who also holds a Ph.D.

It was her vocation, Puguon said, to serve her fellow villagers, considered a sub-tribe of the Igorot, living primarily in northeastern Pangasinan, western Nueva Vizcaya, and western Ifugao. It was a vow she started after earning her nursing degree and entering government service.

Puguon, who holds a Nurse IV position and is the administrative officer of the Nueva Vizcaya Provincial Hospital in Bambang town, rose from the care of a poor family in Barangay Imugan, which she treasured as a motivation to advance in her profession.

“This has served as a challenge for me. Our life then was difficult, but because of the help of our fellow villagers who inspired me and pushed me on to study, I did it,” she said.

Puguon studied in Imugan Elementary School, earned her high school diploma at Kiangan Academy in Kiangan, Ifugao, and got her college degrees at Union Christian College, the Lorma School of Nursing in San Fernando City, La Union, and Nueva Ecija Colleges in Cabanatuan City.

The absence of health workers in their barangay, especially during her childhood days, prompted her to take up the nursing profession.

Guided by the religious teachings of the Reverend Pastor Delbert Rice, a United Church of Christ in the Philippines missionary during her childhood, Puguon grew up nurturing Christian values along with her cultural beliefs and traditions as a native Kalanguya (an alternate name for the Ikalahan).

Rice also assisted her in acquiring scholarship grants from benefactors abroad.

In return, Puguon continued to provide medical services in Sta. Fe for free, bringing in doctors, fellow nurses, and free medicines for villagers who needed medical attention and treatment.

She helped implement the Community-Based Health Program, a primary health care approach that started in 1984 in Barangay Imugan. Puguon was the provincial coordinator for the Expanded Program on Immunization and Control of Diarrheal Diseases while doing primary health care activities.

Leticia Puguon, administrative officer of the Nueva Vizcaya Provincial Hospital

In 1989, Puguon also organized the Federation of Barangay Health Workers of Nueva Vizcaya, which she is still an adviser.

“For our fellow indigenous people who are aspiring to progress in their profession, we should be proud of our culture and show to our fellow IPs that we can become cultural models in our communities,” said Puguon. 

To that end, she obtained a Master of Science in Nursing, major in mother and child nursing, at St. Paul University in Tuguegarao City, and finished her Doctor of Philosophy degree at the Nueva Vizcaya State University.

She said the improving health and nutritional status of residents in the upland villages have inspired her to move on with her vocation, “to serve with genuine spirit and action.”

“When I started my profession and service, we did not mind our low salary. First and foremost, for us it’s to serve our fellow IPs [indigenous peoples], and this has given us satisfaction and inspiration,” Puguon said.

She was the lone representative of the country to the International College of Nursing-Global Nursing Leadership Institute at Chatteau de Bossey in Geneva, Switzerland in September 2012, and in the International Training on Community Maternal Child and Child Nursing at Khon Kaen University in Thailand in 1993.

Among her awards are the Most Outstanding Nurse in Community Health Nursing by the National League of Philippine Government Nurses, Inc. in January 2011; Public Service Award by the North-East Luzon Conference of the UCCP in May 2008; Outstanding Nurse in Region 2 by the Philippine Nurses Association, Inc. in October 2003; 

PAG-ASA Award by the Civil Service Commission as member of the Quality Service Improvement Program of the health sector in Nueva Vizcaya in September 2000; certificate of recognition for the services rendered to the victims of the July 1990 earthquake by the Department of Health-National League of Nurses in January 1991; outstanding nurse in the field of rural services by the PNA Nueva Vizcaya Chapter in June 1990; and Most Outstanding Nurse of Nueva Vizcaya in 1990 by the PNA Nueva Vizcaya Chapter that same year.

She was a former PNA governor for Cagayan Valley, then rose to corporate secretary, and in 2012 was vice president for programs and development of the PNA national chapter.

Married to a probation and parole officer and mother of three sons and a daughter, Puguon is the incumbent president of the Nueva Vizcaya Provincial Employees’ Association.

Last year, Puguon was one of the awardees of the Philippine Information Agency’s IDDU (an Ybanag term for women honorees) Awards in Tuguegarao City for her contributions to tribal folk.

“A major challenge for us is to be at par with our lowland counterparts. We can also show them that racial discrimination has no room in our society,” she said.

Topics: Leticia Puguon
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