Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez

DR. JOAQUIN GONZALEZ-LOPEZ

(1853-1900)

One hundred and eleven years after his death,  historians are still finding things about Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez-Lopez.   According to a list of the first Filipino doctors of medicine and surgeons in the archives,  Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez Lopez was not only the first Filipino doctor of medicine, he was also an ophthalmic surgeon (1878) antedating the more famous  Jose Rizal who trained in the same Paris clinic of Dr. De Wecker.[1]   However,  since Dr. Joaquin was not a national hero,  this fact has not been given as much notice as it would have gotten if otherwise.

As far as Baliwag, Bulacan is concerned, Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez ranks next to Mariano Ponce as the second most illustrious revolutionary figure the town of Baliwag has ever produced. [2]

Belonging to the prominent Gonzalez family, Dr. Gonzalez engaged in a lucrative medical practice in town for quite some time, with his clinic located in their big ancestral home across the old Municipal Building along the National  Highway.  He used to give free treatment to indigent townmates.

Joaquin was born in Baliwag, Friday, July 22, 1853, the illegitimate son of an Agustinian friar who came to Quingua  (Plaridel) in 1841 and Mariquita Amparo Gonzalez, a native “mestiza” with a caustic temper.

Joaquin had his primary schooling in Baliwag.  After obtaining his AB degree from Colegio de San Juan de Letran, he sailed for Spain on March 1872.  He received his “licenciado en medicina” from the Universidad de Valladolid.  From the Universidad Central de Madrid, he received the MD degree in 1878.  After his graduation, he went to Paris where he became an assistant for a time in the laboratory of Dr. Louis Weckert.  Then he travelled  extensively in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.

When Joaquin returned home, his mother Señora Mariquita did not recognize him at first.  The tall, bearded doctor arrived home in Baliwag at about eight o’clock one night and started knocking loudly on the door.

“Titang,” he repeatedly called in a low voice.  (Joaquin called his mother by that name.)

Señora Mariquita was roused from her retirement.  She could only hear the persistent rapping, not his voice.

“Who could be calling at this ungodly hour?” she demanded temperamentally.  Remember, she had a horrible temper.  She went to the housemaid to find out.

The maid came back and reported: “It’s a Spaniard,  Señora, a big bearded Spaniard.”

Señora Mariquita was perplexed.  She became more so when the strange looking caller familiarly addressed her “Titang” and hugged her.  It took her many seconds longer before she identified the once clean shaven face.

“Joaquin!” she shrieked.

“Titang!” responded Joaquin as he burst out laughing and kept kissing her.[3]

Joaquin first established a clinic at Plaza Binondo in Manila, but he later transferred it to his hometown.  His first patient in Baliwag was a man who had fallen from the lower section of the church belfry.

Florencia and Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez

At age 30, Joaquin married  Florencia Sioco y Rodriguez, the youngest daughter of Don Josef Sioco and Doña Matea Rodriguez .  They were married at 4:00 a.m. at dawn, Tuesday, January 22, 1884,  by Rev. Fr. Antonio Recondo ORSA,  with Jose Gonzalez, Joaquin’s brother , and Maria Sioco, Florencia’s aunt, as sponsors. At the beginning, Florencia’s mother, Matea Rodriguez, disapproved of the her daughter marrying Dr. Joaquin.   She did not like like Dr. Joaquin because of his Spanish mestizo penchant for “dulce vida” / good life.[4]  But Florencia could not be swayed by her mother’s wishes.

After their marriage,  Dr. Joaquin and Florencia moved to Apalit, the hometown of Florencia.

For a short term in 1896, Joaquin discharged the Office of Justice of the Peace of Apalit, Pampanga, where he had his permanent residence in Barrio Sulipan.

During the first period of the Revolution against Spain in 1896, he was appointed First Lieutenant of the Spanish Medical Corps of Volunteers.  He was awarded a medal of “Merito Civil” for this. During the second stage, in May 1898,  Joaquin was nominated as Member of the Consultative Assembly  by General Augustin, but that gesture failed to win back Filipino loyalty to Spain.

Joaquin was one of the two elected representatives of the Pampanga province (the other being Jose Rodriguez-Infante) to the Malolos Congress.  He was a member on the Commission on Credentials, and was one of the many nominees for Vice-Presidency on the first voting.  But the Body finally elected Benito Legarda, and Joaquin was named one of the members together with Felipe G. Calderon, of the Committee created to draft the Rules of Debate and Procedures of the Congress, and member of the Drafting Committee created to frame the constitution.

Joaquin had the distinction of being the First Rector of the Universidad Literaria de Filipinas (Cientifico was added later), the first Philippine State Unifersity.  General Emilio Aguinaldo, then President of the Revolutionary Government, founded this institution at Malolos as the highest seat of learning in the Philippines by his Decree of October 19,1898. Aguinaldo appointed Joaquin to the position upon recommendation of Felipe Buencamino Sr., who was at the time a member (Secretary of Promotion) of Aguinaldo’s cabinet.

The new university, succeeded in 1908 by the University of the Philippines (UP), was inaugurated on November 10, 1898, five months after the proclamation of Philippine Independence at Kawit, Cavite.  It offered courses in medicine and surgery, pharmacy, civil, canonical, administrative, and notarial law.

The outbreak of Fil-American hostilities, however, affected the University’s existence.  When Malolos fell to the American invading forces, Aguinaldo transferred the Philippine capital to San Fernando, Pampanga, and later to Tarlac where onSeptember 29, 1898, the school held its first commencement exercises under Dr. Leon Ma. Guerrero.  Guerrero, who is honored with a street name in Baliwag, was the second and last rector of the ill-fated university.

The faculty of the “Universidad Cientifico-Literaria de Filipinas”  included some prominent Filipino educators.  The following were some of the faculty, whose names have become well known in the history of the Philippines:

LAW faculty:  Cayetano S. Arellano, Pedro A Paterno, Arsenio Cruz-Herrera, Pablo Ocampo, Hipolito Magsalin, Tomas G. del Rosario, and Felipe G. Calderon:

MEDICINE AND SURGERY: Jose Luna

NOTARIAL  LAW faculty:  Aguedo Velarde, Arcadio del Rosario, and Juan Gabriel.

The General Secretary was Mariano Crisostomo y Lugo.

At the time of his appointment as Rector, Joaquin was serving as Member of Felipe G. Calderon’s committee created by the Malolos Congress to frame the Constitution.  Actually, he was one of the 16 physicians among the elite group of Congress members representing the “best constitutional minds of the country”.

Embodying the Filipino people’s cherished aspirations and political ideals”, the Malolos Constitution was adopted after two months of debate by the 92 member Congress and it was hailed as the “most outstanding legislative achievement of the First Philippine Republic”.

When the question of the unity of church and state came up for discussion in the Congress, Joaquin was one of the three who defended the adoption of the Roman Catholic religion as that of the State.  He wrote an article in support of that position.  He was succeeded as Rector of the University by Dr. Leon Ma. Guerrero.

After the establishment of US military government in the Islands, Joaquin was named Chairman of a three-man Civil Service Board with two Americans as members (Frank M. Higgins, chief examiner, and W. Leon Depperman, secretary). Unfortunately, however, Joaquin died of acute appendicitis on September 21, 1900 in Manila before he could assume his duties.  The vacancy was filled up by the appointment of Cayetano S. Arellano.

That a highly competent physician like Joaquin should die of appendicitis is rather puzzling.  Joaquin knew exactly what was going to happen to him.  In fact, when he heard a soldier’s trumpet blowing one late Thursday afternoon from the Spanish quarters across their house in Malate, he told some friends and relatives:  Tomorrow I’ll not hear that sound again.”  True enough, he never did, for he died the very next die.  Joaquin died at 6:00 in the morning, Friday, September 21, 1900. He was buried 12:00 noon, Sunday, September 23, 1900 at the Paco cemetery.  The cortege that followed his remains included Civil Governor William H. Taft.  A few years later, his remains were moved to the Apalit Church.


[1] Ambeth Ocampo, “An Earlier Eye Specialist Than Rizal.” Citing the findings of Dr. Luciano P.R. Santiago, a practicing psychiatrist who is also one of the country’s finest historians, when the latter unearthed the (list of) the first Filipino doctors of medicine and surgery (1878-1897) from the archives, Philippine Daily Inquirer,  June 23, 1999.

[2] Roland E. Villacorte, Baliwag: Then and Now,  Philippine Graphic Arts, Inc.  Caloocan City, 1970. Pp. 274-6.

[3] Rolando E. Villacorta, ibid., p.275. This incident was narrated by Atty. Ricardo Lloret, one of Dr. Gonzalez’ nephews.  Born on October 17, 1886, Lloret,  along with Alfonce Ponce Enrile, both were the most prominent legal luminaries of Baliwag. Lloret was elected to the Philippine Legislature in 1917. He had to wait a few days before taking his oath because he was under the legal age requirement for this post. He later became the Secretary of the House of Representatives.

[4] This was pointed out to me by Toto Gonzalez, in his own blog, “Remembrance of Things Awry”. Toto said that he heard this from Eglantine Franco, daughter of Dr. Fernando, the eldest son of Dr. Joaquin and Florencia.