16 July 2012

Roy Cosico: DLSL Alumnus at Doctor Without Borders



Imagine a daily life of waking up earlier than the roosters to be on the road to Lipa for a two-hour drive just to attend school. Then, because the road does not really get any shorter for the drive back home, getting home each night when most classmates would have been enjoying a post-meal chat with the family or watching primetime television.

This was the daily grind that Roy Cosico – and others from the city of San Pablo who opted to get a Lasallian education – of the high school class of 1992 had to live with back in the late eighties and early nineties. “It was physically and mentally exhausting!” Roy describes the daily routine. “Furthermore, I could not stay in the campus after class as long as I wanted. Otherwise, I would have been left by the school service.”

Going to La Salle, Roy says, was something of a family tradition started after the closure of a Jesuit school in San Pablo in 1978.

“My maternal grandmother sent her youngest son to study in La Salle instead of continuing in the school which the Bishop of San Pablo instituted to replace Ateneo de San Pablo. My uncle, Joseph Gesmundo (HS ‘79), was one of the first San Pableños who studied in DLSL. He was followed by another uncle, Marcial Azada (HS 89); my brother David (HS ‘90); and then me.”

The choice of La Salle in Lipa, when one comes to think about it, seemed natural. After all, Roy had both Lipeño and Lasallian connections. “I should not forget that my maternal grandmother comes from the Mayo and Librea families of Lipa City,” he says. “Also, my mother and Br. Manuel Pajarillo FSC, former president of DLSL, are second cousins.”

In high school, Roy was the quiet and respectful student; pensive, even. He was an excellent writer, which I appreciated because the quizzes that I gave were always of the essay type. He admits to the Social Sciences having been his favourite subjects in school. How he became a medical doctor was, he says, almost by chance.

After high school, Roy enrolled under the honours Psychology program of the Ateneo de Manila. After obtaining his degree, he was invited to become a researcher for an advertising agency. He declined because what he really wanted was to sign up for the Jesuit Volunteer Program, which would have meant teaching for a year in one of the remotest areas of the country.

His mother, however, prevailed upon him to undertake further studies while she could still support his education. Law was foremost in his mind; but law school application had already closed. So, Roy took the National Medical Admissions Test; passed the exams; and soon found himself enrolled at the Far Eastern University – Nicanor Reyes Medical Foundation.

After obtaining his medical license, Roy underwent training for Paediatrics at the Makati Medical Center. It was a three year program, Roy says, that entailed “endless duty hours at the Emergency Room, Paediatrics Ward, Neonatal Intensive Care and Paediatrics Intensive Care Units in the said well-known tertiary hospital.”

Whilst in the middle of the program, Roy authored two award-winning research papers, including the first diagnosed case of the DiGeorge Syndrome reported in the Philippines. The syndrome is a congenital genetic disorder that affects different bodily organs. Roy’s papers were recognized by both the Philippine Paediatric Society and the Philippine Medical Association.



Towards the end of Roy’s residency in 2005, Roy came home one day and chanced upon a television program running on the BBC entitled Médecins sans Frontieres – Doctors without Borders. He had, before specializing in Paediatrics, actually wanted to volunteer for the Department of Health’s “Doctors to the Barrios” program.

The BBC program rekindled the spirit of volunteerism in him so that the very next day, he applied online, was subsequently interviewed and eventually accepted in December of the same year.

Roy describes Doctors without Borders as “an international, medical and humanitarian non–governmental organization that delivers free health care to victims of disasters regardless of the victims’ race, gender, religion or political affiliation. Beneficiaries are people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect or catastrophe due to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition and exclusion from health care systems or natural disasters. It provides independent, impartial assistance to those most in need.”

The organization was founded in 1971 and currently has more than seventy missions all over the globe. It was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Award in 1999.

With Doctors without Borders – or MSF, the acronym for its French name – Roy has been assigned to Pakistan, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Turkmenistan, Nepal and Nigeria. With MSF, he had come to the help of earthquake victims in Kashmir in Pakistan and dealt with cholera and measles outbreaks in Ethiopia and Nigeria.

In Nepal, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, he was Project Coordinator who worked as over-all in charge of projects. This meant human resource management, financial control, provision of representation to local authorities and ensuring the safety and security of both international and local staff to ensure the implementation of the different medical programs.



In Sri Lanka and Ethiopia, he worked as Medical Coordinator, overall in charge of the implementation of all medical programs among all the MSF projects in the country assigned.

Roy is currently in the beautiful city of Aden in Yemen. He arrived just two weeks ago and is also acting as MSF’s Medical Coordinator. He describes the city as “as a very beautiful place, rich in Arabic and colonial history and culture.” However, he hastens to add, “I would describe the living conditions here as very restricted. This is brought about by the current security context of the country.”

Just part and parcel of the job to Roy, whose work has sometimes dictated that he lives in some very challenging circumstances. “I have lived in a tent in Pakistan following the earthquake in Kashmir; in complete isolation in the mountains of Nepal; in the middle of an African bush; and in 50°C summer or -30°C winter temperatures in Turkmenistan.”

Apart from his assignments, Roy also gets to regularly visit MSF’s headquarters in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. From there, it is always just a convenient hop to another European country so that Roy has also visited Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the UK.

Roy has also added Spanish, Hindi and Russian to his native Tagalog and the English learned from school. He says that it would be interesting if he can learn Arabic as well, particularly as he is currently assigned in an Arab nation.



As a lover of history and cultures, Roy values travel as the most rewarding aspect of his job with MSF. Although he is away from the Philippines so much, he thinks that this actually helps to make him appreciate the country even more.

“I learned how to cook Filipino food though I would never cook at home. There have been countless times when I would speak about our country to colleagues and convince them why they should holiday in the Philippines or accept a post they are offered there.”

Working in countries where living conditions are really dire also enables him to look at the Philippines in a better perspective.

“Health care system? This does not exist among the Somalis who seek refuge in Ethiopia. Access to health care? Less than 15% of Nigerians has received any vaccine which is routinely given by other governments. Brain drain? There is only one registered medical doctor for every one million people in Sierra Leone.”

All the travelling, however, does present its own challenges as well. Roy explains, “Each time I arrive in my post, I literally don’t know anyone. It is starting from scratch all the time; and by the time I am comfortable with the places and people around me, it would be time for me to leave.”

He continues to keep in touch with friends and classmates, though; mostly by way of the Internet. “I would have to say that even before the social networks affected the daily grind, I have always been in touch consistently with Orvielle Enriquez, Dr. Katherine Reyes-King and Atty. Bernadette Villa-Policarpio.”

That is just Roy making sure that, having gone so far forward in his life, he does not for one moment forget the peoples who touched his life in the past. His father Antonio – who passed away in 1999 – and mother Ma. Christina probably never even imagined when they had him what a gift to the world their son Roy would be.

Any words of wisdom to the young who may stumble upon this web site, I asked Roy. “Modesty aside, I get lauded with what I’ve accomplished and with what I am doing; but I always tell people that we all have our own stories to tell and options to choose from. Regardless of the choices we make, we all have to be determined to bloom wherever we are sown.”

And then, he quotes from Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian literary figure, “Man cannot cross the sea just by staring at the waters.”

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