HEROES and HEROINES
I’m never impressed by overpaid athletes, ego demented politicians, under talented pop stars, or by myself. I am however, profoundly impressed by heroes and heroines. What do those terms mean to you? To me it reflects on an individual’s selfless devotion to his or her community, and by extension, to their country. I’ll now discuss two such people. One you probably have heard of, the other, probably not. One was murdered because he stood up against corruption. The other sacrifices her personal life every day by selflessly providing education to children in a remote mountain area.
Dr. Avelix Amor was forty three when murdered on November 20th last year. He died with twenty pesos in his wallet but also with a pharmacy debt of forty thousand pesos because of medicines he’d purchased for hospital patients who could not afford to buy them. He was shot in day light at point blank range in Guihulngan by men on a motorcycle who’d been following him. I wonder what his final thoughts were. Did he perhaps feel a profound sense of sadness for the people, the society he loved and died for? His loss had significant impact for the people of Canlaon city and the surrounding area. Dr. Amor had been the hospital chief for Canlaon District Hospital, a much loved and respected doctor and reforming administrator.
His murder devastated the lives not only of his parents and other family members, but also of many other people whose lives he had positively impacted. It seems too casual to say Dr. Amor was a man of the people. He was that and much more. He was an example of courage in the face of dangerous forces he must have known would eventually harm him. People with feudal mentalities cannot tolerate their absolute sense of power being questioned. Sooner or later they would silence him. And they did.
Canlaon Hospital has become non functional since his murder. Four doctors soon left due to fear for their safety. And their replacements didn’t last long. The situation has become so hopeless, some days there are no doctors on duty.
“Justice For Dr. Amor” banners were plentiful at his funeral. They were also evident in many parts of Dumaguete and elsewhere on Negros Oriental. They are less evident now. Dr. Amor’s parents claim the banners have been intentionally removed. Adding insult to injury, Dr. Amor’s father has been sent death threats.
His parents are understandably frustrated by the lack of progress in identifying suspects. They also question why the provincial government that was his employer, have offered no reward for help in solving his murder, especially since 500,000 pesos has been offered for information to solve the killing of a provincial board member earlier this year.
Sadly, Dr. Amor’s murder will soon become another irrelevant statistic. “Justice For Dr. Amor?” Forget it. Nobody will ever be brought to justice for his casual destruction. I wonder if the people who ordered him killed, who paid to murder this annoying man, will ever, in moments of quiet reflection, feel any remorse? Probably not. It’s more likely their arrogance, fueled by self righteous indignation, will prohibit a millisecond of discomfort. They probably feel their barbarous actions were not only necessary, but also justified.
A sad aspect of this wonderful, mostly peaceful Philippine society, is one can have another person murdered for a pittance. And the likelihood is remote of those who order the hit will ever be charged with the crime, let alone be convicted for it.
The Philippines is similar in many ways to Ireland where I was born and raised. Family, friends, humor, and a basic sense of decency lie deep within the subconscious of people here. Sadly, just as in Ireland, violence is also an intrinsic part of life here. I consider myself relatively harmless, but have on more than one occasion been advised by people I respect to be careful about what I write lest the dark hand of anger reach out and punish me. Such is the case now. There is much more I would like to say but will refrain from doing so because of concern for my personal safety. I regret being cowardly, but I’ve no interest in becoming yet another meaningless, unsolved, murder statistic.
I once was young, and brave. Today I’m neither. Therefore I won’t comment on the common knowledge about the reason for Dr. Amor’s murder or who was probably responsible for it. The police have “carried out an investigation” but not surprisingly, no suspects were identified or arrested. Nor will they ever be. Legal justice in the Philippines is a myth. It’s non existent. The legal system is a theatrical farce. Sufficient judges, police officers, and politicians are routinely bought off then instructed to turn a blind eye to the truth. Cynical prostitutes in low class brothels have significantly more integrity.
If you were to see her on the street, she’d pass unnoticed. But, to the mountain people of Sitio Labo, Bansud on Mindoro Oriental, teacher Annie is known to everyone and loved by all. Word travels quickly in remote areas, so when word comes that teacher Annie has crossed most of the rivers she needs to navigate before beginning the climb towards the mountain, many people, especially the children, rush out excitedly to wait patiently for her arrival. The joy in her eyes when she sees the children is deeply moving. The excellent TV documentary I-Witness Titser Annie, available on YouTube, beautifully and painfully captures her challenges and success.
It’s in this remote mountain area she provides precious, formal education to mountain children. This community is symbolic of many forgotten people in remote areas of the Philippines. They can be found on mountainsides all over the archipelago. They live their lives mostly unseen by the outside world. They struggle to scratch out a living in a harsh and unforgiving environment.They have never seen a medical doctor or dentist. They have no clean water or electricity. To earn money, they walk many miles over rough terrain carrying heavy loads of bananas on their backs. They sell their produce to lowland merchants. These lowlanders routinely rob them because these mountain people are viewed as “ignorant.” They cannot read, write, or do basic calculations. Consequently, they are unable to place a value on their goods. They don’t vote, so no politician cares about them. But teacher Annie does.
She was mistrusted when she first began to teach. And why not? These people are repeatedly cheated by lowlanders. But when they saw the love and devotion teacher Annie gave to their children, over time their reserve turned to a cautious acceptance and eventually to unqualified trust. Even the older women have recently asked her to teach them. She does this for no additional financial compensation. One of the reasons the older women want to learn how to learn basic math is because of wanting no longer to be robbed by lowland merchants.
Teacher Annie has been serving the mountain people for several years. She teaches all the children from several grades in one cluttered classroom. She even has a nineteen year old who has now learned to write her name and is also learning to do sums. The documentary shows heartbreaking scenes of this dutiful daughter walking with no shoes for many miles with heavy load on bananas on her back. She was then paid a small percentage of their true value. Because of that, she was unable to buy sufficient medicine for her seriously ill mother.
Teacher Annie’s devotion to the community is inspirational. A less devoted person would have been tested when receiving word of a promotion to a “better” school in the city. But teacher Annie refused that offer. She knows she’s no longer young, but still feels an obligation to stay with the mountain people for several more years. Her legacy when she eventually leaves will be to have created a solid educational foundation for the people. Those who have learned to read and write will teach the next generation. Because of her selfless devotion, when she leaves, teacher Annie will be changed forever as will the community she finally waves goodbye to.
Please view the documentary I-Witness Titser Annie on YouTube. I challenge you not to be deeply moved. Teacher Annie is an extraordinary example of pure, unconditional love in action. The documentary conjures up a variety of emotions. It’s humbling to watch, while also painful yet exhilarating.
You may reasonably ask what do the actions of one person on Mindoro Oriental have to do with Negros Oriental. I’d suggest it’s simply an example of what is also happening, perhaps to a greater or lesser extent, in various parts of Negros Oriental. There are no doubt many people here being of significant service to their communities. I also feel it’s necessary to experience a temporary uplifting of spirit when reflecting on the evil of Dr. Amor’s murder.