Jose A Socrates

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 21 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7464
  1. Louis Deliss

Jose Antonio Socrates (“Doc Soc”) was born in 1948 in Ubay, Bohol, and grew up on the campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, where his parents were faculty members. He and his eight siblings spent their happy childhood years inside the prestigious campus in a humble, Spartan home made of “sawali” (woven split bamboo). Despite their poor and simple life, their hardworking parents instilled in them the value of sound work ethic and the importance of diligence and discipline in their studies. All nine children successfully completed their college education, with careers ranging from education to medical and paramedical professions.

Soc originally graduated from the University of the Philippines as a geologist. It was in the field of a geologist when he met an impoverished and ailing old man from a local village tribe in Isabela province in northern Luzon, who had insisted he was a doctor because he wore spectacles, that he started to wonder if he too (for his brother was already on the way to becoming one) could be a doctor. He returned to Manila and graduated in 1974. While at medical school he met and married Cecile, who was studying psychology. An early post was as prison medical officer in Iwahig, a huge open prison in Palawan. Then he left the country to join the United Nations as a volunteer in 1977 and was posted to Africa.

He did not return to the Philippines until 15 years later, during which time he had acquired a medical licence and trained in the United States. Then he explored the UK’s health service, working in Bangor, Cambridge, and, lastly, Ipswich. He specialised in orthopaedics and earning his fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. It was in Ipswich that he was shown the non-operative methods of fracture care that he put into practice later. His hospital consultants in Ipswich were so impressed with his work ethic, dedication, and resolve to return to his country that they all decided to help him. They formed the British Palawan Trust (a charity registered in the UK) in 1990, whose main objective was to provide health services for the people of Palawan (the third largest island of the Philippines), in particular orthopaedics and rehabilitation, and especially to those who could not otherwise afford them. Soc worked tirelessly, writing appeal letters to doctor in the UK raising sufficient funds to set up his unit.

He arrived in Puerta Princesa in Palawan in 1992. He rapidly became known to its people, especially poor ones. He never charged for his services, and all expenses were met by the trust. Within a short time he became the provincial health officer and was head of the public health department and medical superintendent of the provincial hospital. He changed many practices in the hospital and built an orthopaedic ward extension again funded by the trust. He made himself available for patients all day and every day. For many years he was the only doctor with orthopaedic training on the island, so was incredibly busy. He treated thousands of patients who would otherwise have no treatment because it was not available or they could not afford it.

Soc found that the equipment and facilities were very limited, so he developed his method of fracture management without surgery, which he called appropriate orthopaedics and which is outlined in his book of the same name, still available from the British Palawan Trust. His non-operative methods and giving his services for free antagonised some other doctors, especially those with a special interest in orthopaedics. Soc never let this worry him and rather relished being different, but it was often a worry for those around him.

He acquired the use of an old building in the hospital grounds that was not being used. This became Bahatala, from Bahay Hawak Tayo Lakad, which is Tagalog for “house to hold, to stand, to walk.” This remains the headquarters of all the work supported by the British Palawan Trust. In the last year of his life he was working hard to develop a new building on Abanico Road that the whole unit could move to. Soc never saw it completed, but it will open in 2013. He obtained funds with the help of Handicap International (a French charity) and Tahanang Walang Hagdanan (“the house without stairs,” a non-governmental organisation in metropolitan Manila), to train technicians and build a workshop that is the only supplier of artificial limbs and braces in the province. A second technician was trained to repair and modify wheelchairs and manufacture aids for the disabled.

Throughout his work he was very ably helped by his wife, Cecile. She gained a degree in community based rehabilitation in developing countries from London University. This led to the full development of the rehabilitation services in Bahatala and the community. The couple made a wonderful team despite their occasional differences, as Soc was not always the easiest person to work with.

Soc gained many honours. In 1999 the his alma mater awarded him an outstanding alumnus award and recognised the fact that he was a “brain gain” in the face of the exodus of health professionals from the country. In 2005 the International Committee of World Orthopaedic Concern gave him the Arthur Eyre Brook Medal. In 2007, in recognition of his work in orthopaedics for the community. The World Health Organisation awarded him the prestigious Sasakawa health prize. In 2008 the University of the Philippines centennial celebrations awarded him an outstanding alumnus award for his work; in particular for services to those who could least afford them.

Soc never forgot that he was a geologist and called himself a DOG, being a doctor of orthopaedics and geology. It was always a pleasure to go for a walk with him because he could give full details of the geology of the area and every stone he picked up. His hobby was collecting stones with which he built rock gardens wherever he was at the time. He became geological adviser to the provincial government and became involved in the Philippine claim to the mineral wealth around the Spratly Islands on the Palawan shelf. He helped set up the St Paul national park, which has recently become one of the new seven wonders of the world.

Soc was a humble man with simple needs, a wonderful companion in all his activities. I was privileged to know him. We will all miss Soc and will remember his enthusiasm, energy, and inspiring leadership. The people of Palawan will always be grateful for what he achieved.

Soc leaves his wife, Cecile; a daughter, April; and a grandson, Ethan. We extend our sincere condolences to them and all his siblings.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7464


  • Orthopaedic surgeon (b 1948; q Manila 1974; FRCS Edin), died from a heart attack while swimming on 23 September 2012.

View Abstract

Sign in

Log in through your institution

Free trial

Register for a free trial to to receive unlimited access to all content on for 14 days.
Sign up for a free trial