As a physician, he had a formidable reputation. It was said that he had the gift of healing and that this gift had saved many lives singlehandedly plucked by him from the jaws of almost certain death brought about by disease or accidental trauma. But it was as a surgeon, a skilled wielder of the surgical blade, where he would truly made his mark.
In the more than 30 years he had practiced his profession in Lianga, countless stories of his exploits in the hospital operating room have been told and retold over and over again. Most of them have to do with his ability to do his best work even under the most difficult circumstances.
He did surgery under candlelight or with the aid of a flashlight whenever electricity was unavailable. He was often his own anesthesiologist because for many years there was no one else qualified to do that job for him. As a result he was lightning fast and would be finished with a case and out of the operating room in the time it would take another surgeon to scrub, dress in OR greens and make just the first cut in the same patient.
He was also unflappable and did not panic under the most trying conditions. And it was in those times of medical crises when a patient's life was in the balance when his cool head, decisiveness, resourcefulness and ability to quickly think through complex problems that made the difference in the struggle over life and death.
Outside the operating room, he was a brash and forthright man with a rather acerbic sense of humor yet he had many friends and was well liked and respected by all. For beneath the seemingly stern facade, was an idealist with a soft heart that was generous to a fault. He gave always more than he received and never regretted it.
His standing in the community made him an influential voice to be heard but he never envisioned himself in the role of a civic leader. He detested politics especially when his personal integrity clashed with the immorality or amorality of politicians in power. Then his voice could be heard speaking out loudly and fearlessly.
But he was first and foremost a healer and it was for this legacy he wanted to be remembered.
In the 11 years since he left us, there are still people who stop me on the street, either in Lianga itself or elsewhere, to wish me well and share stories about this man who was my father. In the end, they always say the same thing.
Many years ago, either they themselves or someone close to them was seriously ill or gravely injured. Whoever it was, he or she was brought to the hospital in Lianga and my father was able to help them. "Thank God for your father," they would say. "He saved a life that day and we will always remember what he did."
Dr. Jose Y. Otagan was only 66 years old when he died in his sleep on December 20, 1996. It was not his fate to live to a ripe old age. But the quality of a life is never always measured solely by its longevity. What matters most is the way that life is lived.
In Papa's case, it was a life lived to the fullest.