On Global Filipinos: Island doctor Jonas Ebarle: A radiologist in Tortola

Filipino medical professionals in Tortola, from left: Jonas Ebarle, radiologist; Dean Torno, psychiatrist; Glenn Mendoza, dental hygienist; Alma Perias, dental hygienist; Elni Samoramos, pharmacist; and Amadeo de Leon, nurse.

By Loida Nicolas Lewis

When Lucien Stoutt – who was hired by my late husband as a butler in 1988 and continued to work for me as a house manager, chauffeur and event planner — told me he was getting married in his home country of Tortola, British Virgin Islands, my long-time friend Dr. Angie Cruz and I decided we would go and attend his wedding. It was our chance to visit Tortola since we both have never been there.

The wedding, held in a private club, was very joyful and celebratory in true Caribbean style. Bride Joycelyn and groom Lucien were resplendent and happy.

When Lemeal Clyne, one of Lucien’s nephews,  told me that his boss in the hospital is a Filipino, I was intrigued to find out that in this island of 24,000 inhabitants, there are at least 500 Filipinos working mainly in the medical field.

Dr. Jonas Ebarle came to Grenada in 2006, then Trinidad and Tobago where he stayed for four years. He moved to Tortola where he has been working as a doctor for the past 10 years.

In the interview, he told me that he was born in 1965, in Cagayan de Oro, the fourth of nine children — five boys and four girls. His father was a mechanical engineer graduate and his mother was a teacher. His parents and grandparents encouraged him to be a doctor of medicine because he was a good student. He finished high school and college at the Jesuit-run Xavier University. With a BS degree in Biology, he went to Cebu’s Southwestern University to study medicine.

He interned for one year at the biggest hospital then in Cebu, Chong Hua Hospital, until he passed the board exam.  He moved to Manila for Fellowship training in Radiation Oncology for three years at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City  after which he was elected as a Fellow in Diagnostic Radiology at the Philippine College of Radiology.

A friend who was his former senior clerk and graduate of Medicine at Xavier University invited him to go to Grenada. He said the facility needed a radiologist. However they both ended up leaving Grenada soon after because of unsafe and discourteous practices against the Filipino employees.

In 2010, upon the invitation of his friend Arthur Lamberang, who was a radiographer in in Peebles Hospital, Tortola, Dr. Jonas was accepted to be the diagnostic radiologist.

When I asked how come there were many Filipinos in Tortola and for that matter in the West Indies, Dr. Jonas reported that in 1999, when the Miss Universe contest was held in Trinidad, our Miss Philippines was accompanied by then Senator Ernesto Maceda. He was able to convince the governor of Trinidad to recruit medical workers from the Philippines. Thus, began the exodus of Filipino doctors, nurses, medical technicians, pharmacists, hygienists and even accountants to Trinidad.

Dr. Ebarle remained in Tortola because it is a safe and peaceful island where crime is low and one sees no signs of poverty like beggars on streets except for mentally challenged individuals who are then picked up by authorities and placed in safe shelters.  Although when the cruise ships are out of season (July to September), there is less employment. The people of Tortola basically enjoy a leisurely, comfortable island living.

In fact, after his term of office ended in January 20, 2017, President Obama and his family stayed for two weeks in the Necker Island, owned by British business magnate Sir Richard Branson. The Filipinos in Tortola are also owners of grocery stores, and work as accountants, teachers, shop owners, and nannies. In fact, Dr. Jonas said there is a very active Filipino group. The Filipino Association of BVI is recognized by the Department of Foreign Affairs to be the point of contact whenever the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C. needed to do consular visits. When his friend Arthur Lamberang died in 2015 of a massive heart attack the association raised $10,000 to have his body airlifted to the Philippines.

Dr. Jonas said Filipinos in Tortola are considered gentle, soft-spoken, friendly, reliable, hardworking and fun-loving people. They love to get together for ballroom dancing, yearly sport tournaments for tennis, basketball, volleyball, bowling.

Although Dr. Jonas never married, he did not feel homesick because he would visit the Philippines yearly when his parents were still alive. He keeps in touch with his siblings —  two of whom are in Edmonton, Canada; one in California; and the rest in the Philippines  — through FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Viber. He would get calls even in the wee hours of the morning.

He works long hours. In fact, it took me a month before I could conduct the interview because after his work, he would be so tired and sleep would come easy.

And so it is. Filipinos are living well in the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

© The FilAm 2020

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