Quirino District, Quezon City: Armed Forces of the Philippines Medical Center

The Armed Forces of the Philippines Medical Center is located V. Luna Avenue, in Barangay Pinyahan, Quezon City. The barangay was named after the pineapple (Ananas comosus) fields that occupied the area since the 1930s, before it was partitioned into residential projects by the People’s Homesite and Housing Corporation (PHHC) in 1948, to house families displaced by the 1945 Battle of Manila, of World War II (1939-1945). The pineapple industry had long been part of Philippine culture, when the Spanish colonial government (1565-18998) imported the Red Spanish Pineapple (Bromelia Pigna) in the 17th century, which was used as both a fruit and a fiber for creating clothes. The traditional clothes of the Barong Tagalog and Baro’t Saya were made of this piña (pineapple) fiber. In fact, the Metro Manila city of Las Piñas (est. 1762) is named after the pineapple. In 1911, the American occupation government (1898-1946) introduced the Smooth Cayenne Pineapple from Hawaii, through the Bureau of Agriculture, to expand the Philippine export market. This would be the better known variant used for present day eating.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines Medical Center is officially named the V. Luna Medical Center, and the 1.7 kilometer road on which it is located is called the V. Luna Avenue, and both are named after Colonel Victoriano Luna (1885-1942), who started campaigning in 1935 for the 1st Philippine Army General Hospital, and saw its establishment in 1937. Col. Luna was Chief of the Medical Service and Adviser to the Chief of Staff  Major General Paulino Torres Santos (1890-1945), when he saw the creation of the hospital. During the 1942 Battle of Bataan, Col. Luna was inspecting the injured in a makeshift hospital, when a Japanese bomb killed him on the spot. Killed with Col. Luna was Major James Augustus McCloskey (1908-1942), while Colonel Carlton L. Vanderboget (1883-1970) survived but was severely injured.

The Philippine Army General Hospital was established in 1937, as part of Camp William Francis Brennan Murphy (now Camp Emilio Famy Aguinaldo), in the former Diliman Estates of Marikina (now Cubao, Quezon City). However, the Philippine Army General Hospital was not the first military hospital in the Philippines, during the American occupation (1898-1946). The one of the first military hospitals was the American Sternberg General Hospital in Manila, which was opened in 1902. The hospital was originally named the US Army General Hospital, and changed its name in 1920 to honor the US Army doctor and Surgeon General, Brigadier General George Miller Sternberg (1838-1915). US military hospitals would open within the other American military camps, such as the Naval Station Sangley Point in 1898, the US Naval Base Subic Bay in 1899, the Fort William Allison McKinley Jr. in 1901, the cavalry and artillery Fort John Miller Stotsenburgin in 1902, the Harold Melville Clark Airbase in 1903, the infantry Camp John Milton Hay in 1903, the Nichols Air Base in 1919, and the Camp Emmett E. O’Donnell Jr.  in 1942.

The first hospital was a 250 bed capacity building, which is now the Medical Dispensary in Camp Aguinaldo. However, during the 1941-1942 Japanese invasion of World War II, the hospital had to expand its capacity to 500 beds, to the accept the many injured soldiers and civilians. However, on December 22, 1941, half of the hospital was destroyed by Japanese bombing, and survivors were transferred to the Quezon Institute, more than 5 kilometers away.

To treat the injured after the war, the US Army 331st Station Hospital and 312th General Hospital set up base at the Japanese Mandaluyong Airfield, at the corner of José Rizal Boulevard (now William James Bernard Shaw Boulevard) and the North–South Circumferential Road (now Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, EDSA for short) in Hacienda de Mandaloyon (now Mandaluyong City). When the US Army pulled out of the temporary camp in 1946, the Philippine Army General Hospital took over the Quonset huts, and was renamed as the Victoriano Luna General Hospital.

06 1937 V. Luna General Hospital
1937 V. Luna General Hospital

In 1950, the Victoriano Luna General Hospital was able to move to its permanent home, in Barrio Pinyahan. Now named the Victoriano Luna Medical Center, the compound not only houses 1,200 bed capacity modern hospital, but it is also the headquarters Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Medical Service Group. And within the complex is the AFP Medical School (est. 1976), which ensures the training of its medical personnel in field operations.

07 1955 Veterans Memorial Medical Center
1955 Veterans Memorial Medical Center

During its operations from 1946 to 1950, the Victoriano Luna General Hospital did not have enough space to accept all the injured and sick of the active military personnel and their families, let alone add the needs of military veterans. So in 1948, the Veterans Memorial Medical Center established, and opened in 1955, around 3 kilometers from the Victoriano Luna General Hospital.

As for the old site of the first Philippine Army General Hospital in Camp Aguinaldo is now the base hospital for the Army Medical Corps, and office of the Chief Dental Service. Called the Bulwagang Heneral Valdez, the hospital is named after Major General Basilio J. Valdes (1892-1970). Valdez was World War I (1914-1918) veteran, who took his formal medical education at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). After the war, Valdez served in the Philippine Constabulary, revitalizing its medical corps. In 1939, Valde was appointed as the chief of staff of the Philippine Armed Forces, and he was later assigned the position of appointed Secretary of National Defense by Pres. Quezon, in 1941. After the war, Gen. Valdez acted as ad interim Secretary of Public Health and Welfare, under Pres. Sergio Osmeña Sr. (1878-1961). Retiring from government service, Gen. Valdez taught surgery at the UST, while leading notable institutions such as the Philippine Cancer Society (est. 1956), the Philippine Tuberculosis Society (est. 1910), the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (est. 1948), and the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital (est. 1948).

09 1937 V. Luna General Hospital
1937 V. Luna General Hospital

Although the Victoriano Luna Medical Center is not a typical place to visit, yet there is still much to appreciate about the history of the place and the man it is named after. Within the hospital annex is the Saint Piux X (born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, 1835-1914) Chapel, which is serviced by the priests of the nearby Parish of The Lord of Divine Mercy, which will be the subject of the next article.

10 1950 Victoriano Luna General Hospital

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