Doña Julia Vargas De Ortigas: The Lady Crusader Against Tuberculosis
August 19 2014
In commemoration of the 76th Founding Anniversary of Quezon Institute, the hospital arm of the Philippine Tuberculosis Society, the Ortigas Library Foundation gives tribute to Doña Julia Vargas de Ortigas, one of the individuals responsible for the establishment of the institute.
The matriarch of the Ortigas family, Doña Julia Vargas de Ortigas married Don Francisco Ortigas Sr., a prominent lawyer by whom she had seven children. Aside from being a devoted mother and an orchids and gardening enthusiast, she dedicated most of her life to helping those who suffered from tuberculosis, the number one killer disease in the country at that time. She spent most of her time visiting and attending to the needs of patients at Quezon Institute and later on formed a ladies group called the Ropero de Santol (Clothes Hamper of Santol) after noticing the shortage of hospital linens for the patients. She was one of the few who worked hard for the passage of the original Sweepstakes Law which provided for the establishment of a lottery in the country; the Philippine Tuberculosis Society was the first beneficiary and the proceeds helped build the Quezon Institute and expand the society’s services in the provinces. She also volunteered and became a member of the Board of Directors of the Philippine Tuberculosis Society and was soon after elected as President, a position she occupied until her death in 1968.
The society flourished during her presidency. In Quezon Institute, the bed capacity of 150 in 1960 increased to 1, 350 in 1969 and twenty units of the society became active such as the Quezon Institute, Manila Central Dispensary, Quezon Institute Extension Service at the Philippine General Hospital and seventeen provincial branches. She was able to establish a volunteer services and because of her efforts, the country’s mortality rate from tuberculosis decreased by 31 percent in 21 years: from 35, 355 deaths in 1939 to 24, 194 in 1960.
Aside from being a crusader against tuberculosis, she was also involved in numerous civic and social organizations like the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, Club de Damas Filipinas, Women’s International League, and League of Women Voters.
Doña Julia’s generosity and kind-heartedness was noted in a letter by Mr. N.V. Sinclair after World War II to Mr. James Henderson, administrator of the Philippine Alien Property Administration. He stated that Mrs. Ortigas and her son, Francisco, Jr., gave food and medicine worth thousands of pesos to countless American internees without any thought of return or reward.
Due to her passion in serving those who suffered from tuberculosis, she was given the Golden Heart Presidential Award in 1960 by President Carlos P. Garcia on the Golden Anniversary of the Philippine Tuberculosis Society.
Today, the Quezon Institute is considered one of the best TB laboratories in the country; with its Central Laboratory, which is capable of performing TB culture and sensitivity testing, it was renovated by Medico del Mundo of Spain in 2003. In 2008, it went under another improvement through the Tropical Disease Foundation, Inc., transforming it into a culture center for the multi-drug resistant TB program. Currently, the institute is a recipient of a United States Agency for International Development grant, helping to sustain its operations.
The Ortigas Foundation Library has in its collection photos of the late Doña Julia on her campaign against tuberculosis, social gatherings and family portraits as well as the awards and certificates she received and newspaper and magazine clippings about her.