To get to South Upi, Maguindanao, a province in the southern Philippines, one has to travel for more than four hours on rough and war-torn roads.
It is a place teeming with poverty, a place that needs all the help it can get amid the constant neglect of people in power and harsh abuse of resources.
As I had written five months ago, this end of the earth is a forgotten place. There is no electricity and no water. There is no radio. There is no television. There is no transportation except one or two motorcycles that come and go.
Thus, it was an act of sheer courage and selflessness when ‘Florence’ (not her real name), a volunteer nurse, mustered enough courage to travel to South Upi to help the people there. There was a lot to do. The children of South Upi are desperate for help. They look half their age because of malnutrition. The elders don’t have access to medical care and health facilities.
Florence, who is in her early twenties, chose to serve in this far-flung and impoverished community.
But somewhere between the heart of darkness and the municipal hospital compound in South Upi, the volunteer nurse was gang-raped by six men. She was found in an abandoned cornfield half naked, with her face badly bruised and battered.
This happened in September.
According to an abs-cbnNEWS.com article published on 30 September 2010, Florence attended a gathering of volunteers of the government’s Nurses’ Assistance for Rural Services and was on her way to the nurses’ quarters inside the hospital compound when she was snatched by the suspects.
According to the article, the provincial health officer found Florence with haematoma, or severe blood clotting, in the neck, indicating that the rapists tried to strangle her.
As I write this, the victim is still recovering from the physical pain but the scars left by the incident may take a lifetime to heal.
Authorities have apprehended suspects, believed to have come from prominent families in the province.
Nurses and doctors are leaving the country to find gainful opportunities abroad. Only a few are staying in the country – and this is what they get in return.
It is indeed a dark time for Filipino nurses worldwide and for the people they wholeheartedly serve. Justice must be served.