Statement form CHESTCORE on Dr. Leonard Co
The Cordilleras cry out with grief over the loss of Leonard Co, a great scientist who devoted a major part of his life to documenting the Region’s medicinal plants and indigenous knowledge about their use in the book Medicinal Plants of the Cordilleras. During the decade of the 1980s, Leonard served as staff of the Community Health Education, Services and Training in the Cordillera Region (CHESTCORE).
Leonard helped build community-based health programs among indigenous peasant communities in the Mountain Province, Ifugao, Benguet, Abra and Kalinga. He endured treacherous rides along rocky mountain roads and trekked up many steep trails on foot to reach communities suffering centuries of government neglect and lack of social services. He trained local health workers on the use of medicinal plants and the practice of acupuncture so they could attend to their community’s health needs.
Leonard was a living example of the practice of ‘science and health for the people’. He refused to be confined to the university or the laboratory. He patiently interviewed elders and traditional healers, learning local culture and traditions. Drawing on his knowledge and skills, he recorded and systematized the people’s collective knowledge and practice on medicinal plants. He did not use this body of work for his own personal career or economic advancement but instead offered it back for the communities’ benefit and use. In fact, his contribution benefits not only the Cordilleran communities but enriches the body of science and health knowledge we can all draw upon.
It is but unfortunate that Leonard’s years of service to the people was suddenly cut short by a few minutes of gunfire.
What happened to Leonard is not an isolated case. Many health professionals working in farflung communities have been accused of aiding or being members of the New People’s Army or the Communist Party of the Philippines. Instead of being lauded as heroes for choosing to devote their lives to community service and for opting to give up opportunities for career advancement abroad or in private practice, many of them have been harassed, arrested on false pretenses and even killed. Most prominent examples include the killing of Dr. Bobby de la Paz in Samar, the summary execution of Dr. Johnny Escandor who served in Bicol, the attempted assassination of Dr. Chandu Claver in Kalinga and he arrest and continued detention of the Morong 43.
We strongly condemn the killing of Leonard Co and two of his staff at the hands of the Philippine Army’s 19th IB. We demand that justice be served and those responsible not be allowed to hide behind the guise that Leonard and his companions were “caught in the crossfire”.
We salute Leonard for being a people’s scientist and a health worker for the people. Whenever a community health worker in the Cordilleras prescribes medicinal plants or gives acupuncture treatment, we shall remember Leonard and pay him the highest tribute by continuing his work and his legacy. #