Juan B. Escandor was a medical doctor – a cancer specialist and radiologist at the nation’s premier hospital, the Philippine General Hospital – but also “an indefatigable social worker,” according to his friends, who knew how frustrated he was with the injustice of the prevailing system in the country.
He wanted to help build a better Philippines. More simply, he dreamed of putting up a hospital in his hometown and conducting free clinics for the poor (which he was already doing whenever he could).
Escandor was a graduate (1969) of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine. He started at the radiology department of the UP-PGH, becoming chief resident in 1971 and eventually consultant. He then headed the research department of the Cancer Institute of the Philippines in 1972, and taught at the UP College of Medicine.
When martial law was declared in 1972, he left behind a promising career to go underground, volunteering to serve in the rural areas in the Cagayan Valley. The regime issued a P180,000 reward for the capture of the “NPA doctor.”
His decision was not at all surprising to those who knew him. Almost from the very beginning, Escandor was seriously involved in nationalist causes. He was a founding member of the militant student organization, the Kabataang Makabayan (KM), and became active in its workers’ bureau. He organized institutional workers at the PGH. He worked among urban poor communities.
He spearheaded the formation of the Sorsogon Progressive Movement in 1969 and helped put up the Progresibong Kilusang Medikal. When the First Quarter Storm erupted in 1970, he was at the forefront of the mass actions. He was again very active in the 1972 Operasyon Tulong which brought medical services to ﬂood victims in Central Luzon.
Escandor is invariably described as a dutiful son, a diligent student and a doctor dedicated to healing his patients, unmindful of any material reward. He was handsome, athletic (a member of the UP track and field team), “ … he had everything,” as his father said.
Escandor was killed in Manila in 1983 in circumstances still not completely established. He and a companion, Yolanda Gordula, had dinner with friends in Caloocan City on March 30, 1983; it was the last time they were seen alive. A few days later, military authorities announced that Escandor had been shot dead in an encounter with constabulary troopers in Bohol Avenue, Quezon City. But conflicting details about the incident were never explained.
An autopsy performed later on the body revealed that Escandor was severely tortured before he died. No trace has been found of Gordula until today.
Johnny Escandor was 41 years old when he died. His death, according to his classmates at medical school, “remind[s] us all that the primary duty of the physician is to heal. And that healing transcends social boundaries and political beliefs.”