Heroic Valentines
(Fr. Shay's columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

It was a cruel and vicious Roman Emperor Claudius II, as legend has it, who jailed and executed saint and martyr Valentine in 269 AD. He was a young priest who stood for his belief in Christian marriage and performed secret weddings against the orders of the emperor who wanted many more unmarried men in his army because they were regarded to be better fighters. Valentine died for his convictions like millions of Christians and people of commitment who took a stand against powerful oppressors and sacrificed themselves for justice, truth, freedom and human rights. Valentines Day is no longer a celebration of those mighty moral values and has long lost its meaning as a day recognizing courageous virtue of those bravely standing for beliefs and principles. 

Today at its best, Valentine’s is a day of special acknowledgement of true friendship, loyalty and faithfulness between friends and self-sacrificing love between married couples. In its harmless fun and frolics mode, it is a day of romantic messages, some serious, others are not. It is a day for friends, young and old, to celebrate and express their affection, emotional attraction and unselfish love for each other. At its worst, Valentines is a day for the hedonistic and the lustful to gratify their animal urges and sexual desires.

There are the modern day “Valentine Heroes” who are true to the highest calling to be faithful to oneself, one’s principles and stand for truth, integrity and honesty. Recently, 48-year old Heidi Mendoza, a brilliant accountant at the Commission on Audit (COA) bravely testified at risk to her life to a Philippine Senate hearing. She uncovered allegedly massive fraud, graft and stealing at the highest level of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Much of it perhaps foreign military aid. She testified that she got no help to expose the corrupt practices and has been threatened. Heidi is a hero, a true “Valentine Hero”, an inspiration and role model to those with the courage to choose to live a truly honest life of unshakable integrity. All of us should admire, support and imitate her. The Asian Development Bank ought to rehire her. 

Jun Lozada, a government insider came out in 2008 to tell the truth about another huge scam, known as the NBN-ZTE deal. He took a stand and revealed a US$300 million contract made in 2007 to set up a nation-wide broadband network for all government offices. The contract was awarded to a Chinese company under unusual circumstances by high Philippine government officials allegedly reaching to the highest level. Jun revealed that it was riddled with corrupt kick-backs, commissions and over-pricing and it was cancelled following public outrage after his revelations. He was persecuted and threatened. He had to go into hiding and seek refuge for himself and his family with a congregation of religious nuns.

Then another heroic Valentine, Dr. Gerry Ortega, anti-mining campaigner and broadcaster, was brutally murdered last January 24 in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. After leaving the radio station where he hosted a radio news and commentary programme, two assassins shot him in the back of the head. They were both caught at the scene of the crime. Doc Gerry, as he was known, was a brave anti-mining and pro-environment campaigner and he was leading an anti-mining campaign for a total ban on mining in Palawan. Outspoken bishops said that he was a man of integrity and moral principles. His anti-mining campaign could have been the motive for his murder.
Doc Gerry lives on as a true “Valentine Hero”. His wife and five children and thousands continue to mourn his death. There are many thousands of self-sacrificing “Valentine Heroes”. They start out as ordinary mortals but rise to heroic heights of virtue. They develop a love higher, greater, more pure and unselfish than most of us can imagine. The love these heroes have is not for pleasure or self-gratification, but only to give of themselves daily for the welfare of others, for the community, for those who can give no return, no payback. This is the greatest love of all – “to lay down one’s life for a friend”. Now who first said that? END

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