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When heroes need help too

WHEN Datuk Kanang Langkau passed away suddenly last week, I heard all sorts of stories about his bravery.

One of the most incredible stories involved the incident in Perak in 1980, which earned him the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa (SP), the country’s highest medal of valour.

The story goes that after he was shot in the stomach, his intestines spilled out but he pushed them back in, tied up his wound and fought on.

I really don’t know how true the story is. It just sounds impossible that he could have survived what would have been a fatal injury. But true or not, stories like that are part of what heroes are made of and Kanang certainly deserves a place among the greats.

I have been thinking a lot about heroes since Kanang’s passing and I certainly believe they exist in every sphere of our society.

Who is to say that a single mother or a person who gives his time and money towards caring for the needy, be they human or animal, are not heroes too?

But heroes like Kanang are certainly a class of their own, deserving of respect and admiration from the country as a whole.

Now, besides stories about Kanang, I have also heard stories about other heroes and often, they are about how neglected some of them are.

It is always sad to hear such stories and it’s sadder still that we only take action when it is too late, or as a knee-jerk response to console ourselves.

Fortunately, Kanang was much better off but it sure took a while before the country’s only recipient of the SP and Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB), both medals of valour, gained his rightful place in our society.

Kanang really took off as a public figure after he was conferred the state award Panglima Gemilang Bintang Kenyalang, which carries the title Datuk, on Sept 24, 2011.

Until then, most people were probably unsure about how to address him. “Encik” certainly did not fit a man of his status since the SP award is ranked higher than the Seri Maharaja Mangku Negara, which carries the title “Tun”.

In the last few years before his demise, Kanang had been a guest speaker at several public engagements. He would recall his encounters with communist insurgents over and over again and always with enthusiasm.

He also made it abundantly clear that he fought not for personal glory but for a country that would be safe and peaceful for his children.

Now, Kanang might not have demanded any reward for his sacrifices as heroes never did, but it has to be asked — have we as a nation done enough for those who were ready to give up their life for us and our country?

Sure, there may be plenty of veterans deserving attention but those from Sarawak, who the King and Government saw fit to honour with the SP and PGB for their exceptional acts of bravery, are not many.

There are probably three SP holders and 16 PGB recipients still alive in Sarawak. Many of them are in their twilight years and some of them are still fighting on against the ravages of time on their health.

On Thursday, I read with much interest the interview with former police officer Wilfred Gomez Malong, 63, by The Star journalist and columnist Sharon Ling.

Gomez was diagnosed with colon cancer earlier this year. He is the youngest recipient of the PGB when he was just 24.

There were two points he raised that certainly had my attention.

The first was that SP holders received an allowance of RM2,000 monthly and PGB holders received RM1,500. Gomez said that the quantum was increased after a review in 2009 and he felt that it was now timely to review it again.

The second point was a real shocker for me. Apparently, non-pensionable former servicemen, despite holding gallantry awards, do not qualify for medical assistance.

“Those serving less than 21 years are not pensionable,” said Gomez.

“The Government’s policy is that those who do not receive a pension are not entitled to free medical treatment and services. Some of the personnel, including myself and a few others, have bravery awards but we’re not pensionable. For instance, I left the police force after serving 11 years.

“This is something that perhaps the Government has to review. At least cover the medical expenses and treatment for these personnel.”

When Sarawak Ex-Policemen Association chairman Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar was asked for his reaction to Gomez’ suggestion, he said that all former police officers should join the association so that they could enjoy free medical assistance and services.

Now, while I could appreciate what the association is doing for its members, I would have thought that free medical assistance and services should be given automatically to our heroes, particularly the PGB or SP holders.

It would be the least that the Government could do for the people who have taken a bullet or are ready to take a bullet for us.

Gomez has been discharged from the hospital and we all hope for his swift recovery. In the meantime, let’s hope that his request be considered seriously.

But then again, why must it be the Government alone that must shoulder the medical expenses of our heroes. Couldn’t the big companies that have benefited the most from our SP and PGB holders’ sacrifices rise to the challenge?

It might not be the “corporate social responsibility” programme that some publicity-hungry companies are looking for — but it certainly would be the most meaningful.