By Joanne Rae M. Ramirez | HS 79

Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them. Matthew 7:20

“Buena obra” is a Spanish word that means, “good work” or “good deed.”

Siblings Dr. Maria Josefina “Maris” Buuenaobra-Cahilig, M.D. and Maria Isabel “Maribel” Buenaobra, of Assumption Convent (AC) San Lorenzo’s Batch ’79, truly live up to their name.

Proud Assumption scholars both as they are daughters of the late  Engracio Buenaobra, the much respected custodian/ AV technician in Assumption San Lorenzo, Maris and Maribel have done not only their school proud —they have done their country proud ( last phrase itals).

“My friends and classmates never treated me like I was the poor girl whose dad was working as a custodian/ AV technician in the school,” Maris recalls.  “My first year in college ( BS Psychology) was toxic since I was a working student. But I had good grades all throughout my stay at AC. The administration, the workers, the nuns were heavenly good people. I remember, my sister Maribel and I thought of becoming nuns at the time.

Maris, who chooses to serve her countrymen as a rural doctor, and Maribel, an advocacy-centered expatriate, have devoted their years after school to creating positive change not just in the Philippines but in the world. Indeed, as AC foundress St. Marie Eugenie had said, “The world is too small for my love.”

“After graduating from medical school in 1987 at the DLSU Institute of Health and Sciences, I took up residency training in pediatrics at the same institution,” Maris shares. She passed the medical board exams in 1988.  “I joined my husband, an Internist who was the first batch of ‘Doctors to the Barrios’ program in 1993 under Dr. Juan Flavier, then health secretary. He was assigned as municipal health officer in Matuginao, a fifth-class municipality in the province of Western Samar that had a population of about 8,000 people at the time.”

“I took care of sick children, did minor surgery like circumcision, counseling and gave lectures on family planning. My husband went around barangays to do vaccination We stayed in the health center that was just beside the cemetery, with no beds. We slept on sleeping bags. There was no electricity so everything was totally dark by 6 p.m. The following year, I joined Calbayog Sanitarium and Hospital as staff physician for one year. After my husband ended his term of two years for the Department of Health, we started private practice in the city. In 1997, we helped the Camillian priests  put up a hospital in the same city. My husband, Arne, went on 24-hour duty since there were no doctors available.”

Maribel, for her part, shares, “The ideals of ‘love of simplicity,’  ‘fidelity to duty,’  and ‘education to transform the world,’ have inspired me to continuously strive to live a life for the service of others. As an educator and a History major, I believed in St. Marie Eugenie’s ideals that education will help transform the world. As a development worker, I wasn’t content with being on the sidelines. I knew that as women, we have a stake in our children’s future, in building the nation’s democratic institutions, in uplifting the economic conditions of the less fortunate.”

Maribel now works as Deputy Chief of Party (DCOP) for a USAID-funded and The Asia Foundation-managed project to combat trafficking in persons in four countries in the Pacific Island region: Fiji, Republic of Marshall Islands, Tonga, and Papua New Guinea.

During the 2022 national elections, she was executive director of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV).  The PPCRV is a non-partisan, non-sectarian, non-profit organization affiliated with the  Catholic Church  that works to ensure free, fair and fraud-free elections in the Philippines. It has been the “citizens’ arm” of the Commission of Elections since 2010 and conducts the unofficial parallel count of returns after the election.

‘Make Christ known’ 

In 2002, Maris’ husband was asked if he was willing to “revive” the Calbayog Sanitarium and Hospital (now Adventist Hospital Calbayog), which had ceased operations due to bankruptcy. Dr. Arne Cahilig was employed as president for seven years, vice president for three years and medical director.

“He was also resident on duty with a side job in Information Technology, which he did for 10 years with a very small amount of compensation,” continues Maris. She continued on as a private primary care physician, “reaching a total of 28 years doing free medical outreach services to different barangays and creating evangelistic efforts to make Christ known to the communities.”

And even though her plate was already full, Maris was also involved in civic work as part of Lions International, where she served as president for two years. “We reached out to barangays affected by calamities as part of our relief operations, conducted lectures on cancer and diabetes awareness and created programs for the care of the environment such as tree-planting; adopted a school (Cagbayang Elementary School) to uplift the nutritional status of underweight school children by providing meals, dietary supplements and vitamins for a year. Today, Adventist Hospital Calbayog is still in operation catering to the needs of the community.”

“What I am today and what I have become, I owe to my AC education,” Maris, who is the proud mother of three biological children and two  adopted children, affirms. “Much of my Christian education was molded by AC. It provided me a strong foundation to realize my purpose in life — and that is to serve. I wanted to be a missionary as Christ is the greatest healer. He was a missionary, too.”

“My AC education taught me that not even poverty could prevent me from becoming what I had aspired and dreamt of becoming. It taught me that it is by God’s grace that my will to pursue my outmost desire to serve in  far-flung areas, where medical attention is needed, is the same ‘grace’ that has been sustaining me and my family,” she discloses.

Her sister Maribel’s work to combat trafficking of persons is challenging, service-centered and involves personal sacrifices, too. “My Assumption education has prepared me for a life in development work and has instilled in me the values of honesty, integrity, hard work and love of country.  As a development worker, I have taken the ‘road less traveled,’ worked in conflict-affected areas, and witnessed the indomitable spirit of Filipinos who want to serve. And this is what continues to inspire me to do the work I do.”

“I have always been grateful for my Assumption education,” Maribel continues.  Maribel studied at the Assumption from kindergarten to college.

Maris Buenaobra
Maribel Buenaobra

“I was proud of being a scholar. I love books and the library was my favorite place in school. I am glad that I experienced studying in all three locations— San Lorenzo, Herran and Antipolo. It was during my school days in Assumption that my love of writing was nurtured, and my writing skills honed. I served as correspondent for the Philippine Daily Inquirer when I lived and studied in Canada. I hope to write a novel someday,” says Maribel, who is now a grandmother! “Currently, (I am) storming the heavens with prayers that my visa gets approved, and I can finally visit and hug my granddaughter. Oh, to see and hug my daughter and granddaughter would be pure joy.”

Till her granddaughter is in her embrace, Maribel’s source of joy is her work.

“Helping make people’s lives better makes me happy,” she gushes.

What makes Dr. Maris happy is her capacity to share, whether it is her time or her treasure.

“What makes me happy is having something to share whether in material things or otherwise: sharing my expertise, advise or counsel makes me happy; giving my space and time makes me happy. Being financially stable makes me happy because I am able to help my family and relatives’ needs. Having to inspire people and seeing them pursue their dreams make me happy. To see my children happy with whatever endeavor they choose in the context of service makes me happy.”

 “Most of all, what makes me most happy is my desire to serve the community — not just give them freedom from ailments but  helping them sustain their spiritual needs by letting Christ be known to them.”

To whom much is given, much is expected. The Buenaobra sisters were given the gift of the best education and they have given back and paid it forward  by being the best they can be, and by being more than the best they can be.

Indeed, by their good work you shall know them.


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