Las Piñas hospital responds to archivist John Tewell’s claims on passport, ‘wrong’ operation

June 6, 2023 - 5:46 PM
PHMC Las Pinas
A screengrab showing the building of the Perpetual Help Medical Center in Las Piñas City in a video uploaded by the hospital on Facebook on Dec. 5, 2020 (Screengrab from perpetualhelpmedicalcenterlaspinas/Facebook)

A hospital in Las Piñas City addressed the accusations of one of its patients, prolific photograph archivist John Tewell.

The 79-year-old American archivist in a Facebook post on Monday, May 29 accused the institution of “illegally” holding his passport and performing a “wrong” operation.

The Las Piñas branch of the Perpetual Help Medical Center (PHMC), the accused, responded to Tewell’s post in a statement.

The archivist had previously appealed for help and expressed his fear of “being deported” following a five-year-old incident that involved the tertiary medical center.

According to him, he could not go to the Bureau of Immigration without his passport.

“Perpetual Help Medical Center did a major surgical operation on me in the wrong place, cutting me open from ribcage to pelvis bone. I refused to pay,” Tewell claimed in his Facebook post, adding it happened in 2018.

“They held me illegally against my will for 39 days after the doctors released me. Finally, they illegally took and kept my passport and released me, saying when I pay the bill for operating on me, in the wrong place, they would give it back,” he added.

“I even had the US Embassy involved. The Embassy worked to get it back by telling the hospital the Passport belonged to the USA, not me, and they wanted it back. The Hospital basically told the US Embassy to go to hell,” Tewell continued, referring to the United States Embassy in the Philippines.

The antique photo collector claimed that he has documentation “for almost everything” he did to supposedly retrieve his passport. These include pictures of his “invasive surgery” which he alleged happened in the “wrong” area.

Tewell additionally claimed that he had documented the communication with the US Embassy, including two conference calls they had with the PHMC.

“Please, at this stage of my life, I need help to get past this wrongful injustice,” he concluded.

The archivist included a copy of the deportation order against him issued last January, which said that he “overstayed in the country.”

Two days later, Tewell reiterated his appeal by saying he did not want to be “forced to leave” the Philippines which he said had been his “home” for the past 16 years.

The archivist’s initial Facebook post reached Twitter, where a user shared a screengrab of his post. It has so far received over 414,200 views, 2,858 likes and more than 770 retweets.

“If you’ve read any blogs, articles, or books with photos of the 20th-century Philippines, chances are, you’ve seen John Tewell’s archive photos. Himself a photographer, Tewell has collected thousands upon thousands of those pictures and made them available for public use,” another Twitter user said.

“Tewell is one of the reasons why we have so many old photos of Philippine life so easily accessible online. Despite being born in distant Kansas, he has devoted so much of his life to the preservation of items in our Filipino history that would otherwise be lost in the margins,” the user added.

“To see his deportation ordered and passport taken is a crime, almost reflective of how little real importance our state places on our history: instead of making it clear and accessible, they brutally distort it [and] deport — and in the case of Filipinos, imprison [and] kill — its advocates,” the user continued.

Columnist and editor-at-large Manuel L. Quezon III also expressed alarm over Tewell’s situation.

“John Tewell’s Flickr page is a national treasure, honestly, and his situation brings up the never-ending question of patient’s rights,” he tweeted.

“John Tewell’s Flickr account is a treasure trove of historical photographs, a vast archive that contributed much to the increase in heritage awareness in the recent years. It’s truly awful and shameful that he is subjected to this terrible order. What a grateful country!” another Twitter user exclaimed.

Five days after Tewell’s initial Facebook post, the PHMC released a statement in response to the archivist’s claims.

The hospital said that the photo collector “underwent” procedures with them to “correct” his hip fracture and hernia from a previous major abdominal operation which it said was not performed in their institution.

PHMC added that Tewell was “advised for subsequent follow-ups as an outpatient but failed in this regard.”

An outpatient is a patient who is not hospitalized overnight but has to go to the medical center for diagnosis or treatment.

PHMC also said that they have “a notarized promissory note signed by Mr. Tewell and a hand-written letter from Mr. Tewell stating that he agreed to relinquish his passport until his bill is settled.”

The hospital said that Tewell’s bill amounted to P146,000. It added that he had “no means to settle the amount at that time.”

PHMC shared that the archivist’s counsel sent them a letter on Sept. 8, 2020, demanding the release of Tewell’s passport.

“Two days later, we replied, saying Mr. Tewell or his authorized representative may claim the document from our hospital. To date, no one has appeared to claim his passport,” the medical center said.

It added that the hospital’s management tried to send the archivist a collection letter on Feb. 22, 2023. However, they were informed that Tewell had moved out of his last known address.

“The Perpetual Help Medical Center maintains that Mr. Tewell received the best possible patient care and treatment,” the hospital said.

“We would like to stress that our institution is committed to treating every patient that comes through our doors with competence, compassion, and care in accordance with our motto ‘Dedicated to Life,'” it added.

Who is John Tewell? 

Tewell, an award-winning pilot from the USA, moved to the Philippines after he retired in 2007.

He described himself as a “visual person” and shared that he had been a photographer since the 1950s.

Tewell’s name is synonymous with old photos of the Philippines that are widely available online.

Book publishers who need old photos of Manila always include his photo collection, such as in the case of Peter C. Parsons’ “Manila 1945: The Rest of the Story.”

Tewell has images documenting historical events like the Liberation of Manila and the Second World War, as well as countless antique photos of women, children, churches, buildings and monuments, schools, homes, and marketplaces.

His collection can be viewed on his Flickr account he created in 2009.

According to the archivist, he enjoys collecting heritage photographs and “looking at the stories they tell and beyond.”

“There’s personal satisfaction in knowing that I am helping preserve the history of the Filipinos and hopefully, opening more doors towards deeper understanding and appreciation about your rich culture,” Tewell said in a 2017 interview with The Philippine STAR.