It was a vacation that could have resulted in a reconciliation for a divorced couple. Actress and Miss Universe 2005 4th runner-up Monica Spear, her British (but Venezuelan-raised) ex-husband Thomas Henry Berry, and five-year-old daughter Maya, decided to spend the Christmas and New Year holidays together in Venezuela, visiting family and taking in some touristic sights (as Thomas runs a travel and adventure company called Arekay Tours). But on the evening of 06 January 2014, while traveling in a rented 2002 Toyota Corolla from the holiday destination of Puerto Cabello to Valencia, their car tires suddenly went flat. As they were about to have their car towed for repairs, an armed group of bandits pounced upon them. The family locked themselves in their car, which led the bandits to shoot the front window of their car, killing Monica and her ex-husband, while injuring daughter Maya in the leg.
Crime and murder is actually rather commonplace in Venezuela, to the point that the wealthier folks (including Monica herself) decided to reside outside the country (like in Miami, Florida, USA), some of them even choosing not to even come back to this country to visit. It seems to have taken this tragedy to finally wake the government up to take some action on the long-festering situation, especially with the people outraged and finally taking to the streets to voice out against this.
Pageant fans all over the world of course were shocked and also grieved online. Miss Universe 2005 alumni with social media accounts of course promptly posted their reactions, paying tribute to a lovely, kind woman whose life ended too soon in an unjust manner. Miss USA 2005 and Top 10 Miss Universe semifinalist Chelsea Cooley took it one step further, opening a crowdfunding campaign to raise a scholarship fund for surviving daughter Maya. Below is her video for her campaign.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, I was celebrating my birthday, basking in the warm greetings and well-wishes. I learned about the tragedy while I was at work, and once I confirmed that this tragic news was true, my mild euphoria turned into somber reflection instead. It made me recall my own close brush with death a little over 10 years ago…
It was an August Saturday evening, and I came from a wedding expo at SM Megamall. I rode an FX from Edsa Shangri-La towards Quiapo to get home. I was texting my colleague at Mabuhay Beauties with my (even then) old fashioned cell phone (a Nokia 3310) while we were at the Sta. Mesa area when a rider in front of me pulled a gun and asked me to hand over the phone. I first refused (because at the time, I thought, why would they fancy such an old-fashioned model when other people are carrying fancier cell phones). Then he fired a shot at the bulky envelope bag I was carrying at the time. I hesitated and he fired again, and that was when I yielded the cellphone.
Fortunately, I survived unscathed. I thought at the time the robber fired blanks, and all I thought at the time what a jerk that robber was, and how inconvenient for me to have to borrow another cell phone to communicate with my colleague when I get home, and then have to go then buy a new cell phone (with my extremely limited budget at the time). It was only a few days later when I opened my bag at my work (then at an educational publishing firm) that I found there was actually a bullet in it–a spiral notebook somehow deflected the bullet, though it pierced through some of the (very thick pile of) draft documents I was editing at the time.
When I relayed this incident to my parents, the first thing they did is lecture and berate me for being an idiot–that I should’ve given my cell phone away immediately or else I could’ve been harmed or even killed. I have to say I am thankful that I was unharmed, and it was indeed a lesson learned.
As more details about Monica Spear’s death unfolded, the more it made me reflect about my own sentiments about my own country, and what is going on in my shores. Though Monica chose to reside outside of Venezuela for her daughter’s safety, she still loves her country enough to visit, and thought it was still safe enough for her and her family to enjoy a vacation there. Also remember, her ex-husband, Thomas Henry Berry, was also shot and mugged 15 years ago in the same country, but he still loved it enough to run a travel / adventure company there and visit it frequently. It’s such a shame this is what that nation gave this couple in return. I may have misgivings about my own country, and I don’t speak the national language very well (plus I often pass as a foreigner with my looks), but I still love my own country and am still proud to state that I am Filipino and this is my home.
But I am fearful and concerned that it is easy for my country to devolve into the same situation that Venezuela is in. Ten years after my experience, criminality still continues and for some it seems to have gotten worse (my officemates continued to relay horror stories of crimes they personally experienced). There are crimes committed that may stir initial outrage, but it seems as time wears on, nothing much has been done. Some older folk even wanted to revert back to the times we were ruled under an iron hand–but it seems they have forgotten that most of the malaise we see in the political arena and in society in general these days were rooted by the poison/s planted by the same iron hand. In practically all institutions we are supposed to hold as hallowed, we are greeted with ineptitude, corruption, infighting, or all of the above.
I don’t know what’s it going to take in order for my nation would finally change for the better, but all I could hope for now is that it doesn’t have to take a sacrifice of an innocent like what happened to Monica Spear before we wake up and take action.