Philippine police authorities and U.S. Embassy officials made a tragic discovery yesterday, April 18, in their search for missing U.S. Peace Corps volunteer Julia Campbell. Her body was found in a shallow grave near an irrigation ditch in the town of Banaue, Ifugao province, apparently the victim of foul play. She was last seen alive last April 8, Easter Sunday, a solitary trekker visiting the famed Banaue Rice Terraces, a popular Philippine tourist attraction and U.N. World Cultural Heritage site. Details are still sketchy. No suspects have been apprehended.
Campbell, from Fairfax, Virginia, was one of 137 Peace Corps volunteers currently in the Philippines. Pictures of her flashed on t.v. show a radiant, smiling woman who looked younger than her 40 years. A seasoned and adventurous traveller, she went to Ifugao alone from her posting in Albay province, where she taught at a local university. Although the trip took a few days, it was not unduly difficult. The route to Banaue is scenic and full of local color as it winds along a number of provinces. It seems she wanted to see more of the country before her scheduled return to the U.S. in June, where she was set to pursue further studies in NYU.
Her brutal death came as a shock to many. Having roots in the Philippine Cordillera region myself, where Ifugao province forms a part of, I can attest to the kindness and hospitality of the people and their high regard and respect for U.S. Peace Corps volunteers. They are seen as adopted sons and daughters of the many indigenous tribes of the mountain region. Whatever else is said about “U.S. Imperialism”, the Peace Corps is the kinder,gentler and undeniably more genuinely heroic face of American world hegemony. The Peace Corps have been a constant presence in the Philippines practically since its inception in the early 1960’s. And the volunteers are not just naive, well-intentioned do-gooders. They are, by and large, committed professionals with a clear vision of what they want to do and what they can achieve in a difficult, and sometimes dangerous, region.
Ms. Julia was much loved by the people whose lives she touched, judging by the many tears shed by her students and friends in the Philippines when they learned of her death. She had a blog, “Julia in the Philippines” which is heartbreaking to read now. Her death, I feel, is a tragedy felt by all Filipinos. We grieve with those she left behind as well as for ourselves, that we have been unable to reciprocate in kind the love and concern Ms. Julia showed for our country.