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Ordinary people with extraordinary deeds
by Ramon Dacawi

World karate champion - cum-Samaritan Julian Chees visits 13-year-old kidney patient Mary Joy Ligudon and another patient from Ifugao, who are accommodated for free at the author's house. -- Harley Palangchao

This journey to the grave called life, set into motion by birth, matters not how long but how.

A little morbid it may seem, but that’s the message underlying the annual CNN Heroes program, about ordinary people with extraordinary deeds or lives. Yet heroism is never limited to those chosen to be recognized. You and I have our own lists, if only we take time to spot them, for a retelling when the occasion arises. Or when we need to be reminded of their heroism to prop us up and realize that life is worth it because they’re among us, in flesh and blood.

Lack of space prevents here a full retelling of the stories of all those I had the luck and honor of meeting, or to fully narrate the life contributions of those I have chosen for this piece about ordinary people. (Some of the full-length stories can be downloaded by typing the name of each hero and clicking search on the Internet.)

I. An unlettered farmer’s legacy

Once in a while, a story comes along that needs to be told and retold – for the human virtue it inspires. It’s easier to find it in fiction than in the real world that tends to breed cynics among us.

I’ve heard one such story, of one of flesh and blood. It’s about an unlettered farmer whose deeds were extraordinary you’d think he was a novelist’s creation. I heard it from then regional Education director Stephen Capuyan. He recalled it when we met, perhaps sure my Igorot blood would trigger my interest to listen.

Manong Steve recalled his disbelief when an Ifugao farmer appeared in his office at the Teachers’ Camp, to seek help in solving a serious personal problem. It was about the man’s dwindling livestock, and he swore only the Education department could help him save what remained of his cow herd.

“I immediately advised him to direct his woes to the Department of Agriculture, but the man was unfazed and persistent,” Capuyan remembered. The guy assured he was losing his cows, but not his head, and that he came to the right office to spill his grievance.

Dandani maibusen dagiti bakak (I’m about to lose all my cows),” the man tried to explain. “Dakayo met koman, apo, ti agbayad kadagiti agisursuro idiay barangay mi ta awanen ilakok nga baka tapno masueldoak isuda (I hope you can now pay the teachers in our barangay as I have no more cows to sell for their pay).”

Capuyan’s visitor was Mongilit Ligmayo, an unlettered farmer from Ifugao who, one day, ventured into what is now Ambasa, a barangay of Lamut, where he became the pioneer farmer. Gradually, the isolated place drew more farmers and slowly developed into a barangay.

As the farmers produced more rice and children, Ligmayo saw the need for an elementary school. He sliced off a hectare of his land for the site, knocked on government doors, and then helped build the primary school with his finances and carpentry skills.

In no time, the first children finished sixth grade. Again, Ligmayo sliced off another two hectares of his lot. Again, he oversaw the construction and, with his sons, built desks and tables for the high school.

But the Education department had no budget for the teachers’ salaries. To keep them in class, he began selling his cows. One day, when he could hardly count any left, he decided to travel to Baguio to meet Capuyan.

In 2003, Lamut officials led by then mayor Angelito Guinid renamed the Ambasa Elementary School after the farmer who never learned to read and write. In 2004, then Ifugao Rep. Solomon Chungalao filed House Bill 1043 that separated the Ambasa annex of the Lawig High School. The bill renamed it the Mongilit Ligmayo Memorial National High.

II. Heroes who happen to be women

Some of my heroes happen to be women, not because of their gender but because of their actions that inspire. Dr. Julie Camdas-Cabato, the gentle lady doctor is one of them.

She is one of the most respected and sought-after medical practitioners for her competence and sensitivity to the emotional and financial limitations of those she heals. For years, she’s been silently and doggedly into the environmental cause hands-on.

She’s as self-effacing as Peter Fianza, Baguio’s former city administrator and now city councilor.

Two other women I knew also gave substance to that line from novelist Richard Paul Evans: “The greatest acts are done without plaque, audience, or ceremony.”

Years back, I got a call from Lorie Ramos, a 43-year-old widow with the civilian staff of the male-dominated Philippine Military Academy. She said she read of the plight of journalist Noney Padilla-Marzan, who was then battling cancer, and wanted to help. That led Conrad Marzan, Noney’s hubby, and me to Lorie’s rented home at Scout Barrio.

“I understand the difficulty Noney is in now,” she gently told Conrad after she handed her support. “I’m also into my second fight against cancer,” she added, perhaps to explain why she had her head wrapped with a handkerchief. Chemotherapy triggers hair loss.

She did lick breast cancer, or so she thought. She had placed the ordeal behind and had settled back into life’s daily routine when the pesky mutant cells reappeared, this time in the bone.

With cellular phones, the two women struck up a friendship to the end. Lorrie later came to bid goodbye. In a voice reduced to a whisper by the spread of the disease, she said she had accepted the inevitable. She was going down to Quezon City to stay with her sister, who would continue raising her 10-year-old son.

Noney brushed aside her own need for fund support. She protested publication of her need for help to combat her affliction. She insisted that proceeds from a folk concert for her chemo treatment be channeled to kids in the cancer ward. She spent the last two years of her life attending to ailing toddlers and comforting parents of those who succumbed to the big C.

Two other women of substance, both christened Edna, never allowed their own pain from cancer to blind them to the suffering of other patients. One of them, Edna A., lives in Baguio but has to undergo a prolonged medical therapy in the United States, while Edna P. is raising her daughter in Kentucky. Both reacted to many news articles about patients in need of help and sent their support through this writer.

At the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, Dr. Asela Casem and her staff initiated the upgrading of its psychiatric ward into an honest-to-goodness department, the one and only in Northern Luzon. In the Third World, psychiatry is a vital but overlooked aspect of the medical field where the trend remains concentrated on the more lucrative (and glamorous) areas such as surgery and internal medicine.

Asela’s implanted kidney failed when her maintenance medicine ran out while she was conducting psychiatric de-briefing for people in Tinoc, Ifugao who were traumatized by a helicopter crash. She was about to go on her second kidney transplant to enable her to continue serving the only regional medical center North of Manila. Before the second renal failure, she had declined a high-paying job in her field of specializing in Australia, saying there’s much to do for psychiatric patients here. As fate would have it, however, she suffered a fatal heart attack, as she and husband Dinky were about to travel to the National Kidney Institute.

There’s Maria Paz “Datsu” Feria Infante, a Spanish mestiza and daughter of a sugar magnate in Bacolod. She fell in love with Mike Molintas, a pony boy at the Wright Park and a scion of the Ibaloy clan at Gibraltar barangay. In the name of love, Datsu turned her back on a life of wealth and ease to follow her heart. When Mike succumbed to heart disease, she gathered their four sons after the burial to ask where they wanted to grow up in – Baguio or Bacolod. They chose Baguio and, almost single-handedly, she raised them, including frail Nino Joshua, the youngest who was born with a serious heart defect.

Nino’s heart was mended with support from the late columnist Art Borjal and Samaritans inspired by his parents’ unusual love story and a widow’s might. The family remains unbroken, with Nino trying to multiply a cow an aunt bought him. He said it would be for his brothers’ children. It’s in keeping with a pact the siblings made with their mother after they lost their father – to never give up on each other.

The late Cristy Dicang still went to prison even after she retired as catechist of the Baguio City Jail. She had been inside since 1971. That’s when two seminarians invited the then 31-year-old elementary school catechist for a look into their programs inside.

When the two semina-rians left to study abroad, she stayed behind – for good. She would do her rounds, like a resident doctor would, a healing presence to a unique set of clients, someone thy knew would be there for them each passing day, noted Vicky Rico Costina, Cristy’s former colleague in prison ministry.

The world outside hardly heard of her lifetime work in volunteerism that spanned almost four decades. Those released from years of detention talk of how bible studies and prayers with her helped them cope with life inside, and how these spiritual encounters steeled their resolve never to be back in once they’ve been set free.

“I now see some of them driving taxis and jeepneys, others vending goods in the market, all raising their families and leading productive, peaceful lives,” she said.

Early on, Cristy felt work for reform and transformation required transcending the routine thumbing of rosary beads, sharing biblical passages, practicing hymns and attending Sunday mass with the inmates. The ring of faith in the Lord Almighty and belief in gospel truth can only be heard and felt if the scriptural messages about and of compassion, hope, and redemption are fleshed out – from quote to action.

The late Cristy Dicang

III. A mother’s dream to restore a kid’s lost childhood:

My daughter Veronica one time wrote me about a woman who was a patient since she was a child. “I’m far luckier, dad, for I had a childhood and she had none,” my daughter wrote.

That was the reason for my referring the case of 13-year-old Mary Joy Ligudon to Presidential Communications Operations Officer Martin Andanar when we met recently, so he could endorse the ongoing signature campaign to make dialysis a free medical procedure, it being a life-saving course of action to be undertaken for a lifetime.

The kid recently turned 13, when journalists greeted her with a birthday cake while she was hooked to the dialysis machine at the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center.

Her struggle for survival began in April 2003 when she was brought to the BGHMC by then Aguinaldo, Ifugao mayor Gaspar Chilagan for treatment for urinary tract infection.

Her eventual adoptive mother, Gina Epe, recalled she and her twin daughters – Jordynne and Lordynne – saw the kid in the isolation room of the hospital when they visited an ailing relative undergoing chemotherapy.

“My daughters overheard the nurse asking the kid’s father why Mary Joy’s prescription medicines had not been bought, she recalled. My twins asked me money and bought the medicines. For two months, my daughters were bringing packed meals daily for the girl before going to school.”

When the girl was about to be released, her father asked if she could be left to the care of Epe’s family as he could not cope with the expense of now and then having to return her to the hospital for the regular check-ups.

Under her adoptive family’s care, the child underwent regular check-ups in a bid to prevent complications. As fate would have it, however, she was diagnosed last May for end-stage renal failure. That more than doubled the financial stake and care she needed for her survival and chance to grow up.

Since then, for 10 years now, the child has been under her adoptive mother’s care. This means monitoring her condition, bringing her to the hospital for her twice-a-week hemodialysis and watching over her when the doctors say she needed to be hospitalized. That’s why the kid’s recent birthday celebration somehow focused on the continuing sacrifice of her adoptive parents, brothers, and sisters.

Gina couldn’t say why she took in a sick child needing lifetime care. “Perhaps it’s because of the fact that when I delivered my twins, and I could not single-handedly nurse them, a woman from Ifugao who had just delivered her own baby offered to help breastfeed my kids,” she recalls.

The kid’s will to live and to have her childhood restored encouraged her adoptive mother to look for institutions, which could help provide a kidney transplant so she could live and grow normally.

Informed of her predicament and impressed by the sacrifice of her adoptive mother in taking the kid into her family fold, Andanar directed his staff to draft a letter asking the National Kidney and Transplant Institute to include Mary Joy in the list of patients waiting for a kidney donor.

IV. Karate ne sente nashi

(Karate has no offense)

There may be more than we believe, but it often takes time to come across people who experienced poverty early life then personally took on the role of Samaritans when they have hurdled the pangs.

Among them is Julian Chees, an accomplished martial artist of the respected Japan Karate Association and now head of the JC-Shoshin Kinderhelfi, a humanitarian group he established in Germany where he has been based for many years now.

Since 13 years back, the karate master has been coming home every year to reach out to the sick and needy, using personal resources and donations from his students and friends.

In the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, Julian aired an appeal through the Internet that raised about a million pesos. This writer accompanied him in using bulk of the amount for cash and rice support to typhoon victims in Roxas City, in coordination with linemen of the Benguet Electric Cooperative earlier sent to restore power. Coming back to Baguio, he dropped by the Courier office for a P100,000 to the weekly’s fund drive for the victims.

Earlier, he was in Banaue, Ifugao where he handed support to two families whose common abode and two daughters were buried in a landslide along the rice terraces.

Still earlier, he has been visiting patients in his native Bontoc, Mountain Province and in Baguio, often personally purchasing medicines and medical equipment needed by patients of all ages. To speed up procedure, he normally consults the social welfare office of the BGHMC to determine who needed help most. For all these, he needs receipts, including those issued by doctors, to submit to Renate Doth, the foundation’s secretary who is keeping track of Shoshin’s work.

“I’m just lucky to have been based in Germany that enabled me to compete in various international tournaments,” he said. “I owe my training to the late Shihan Kunio Sasaki and Sensei Edgar Kapawen Jr. who honed me in the basics that served as my background.”

He took his blackbelt (first and second dan) from Master Sasaki and his third to sixth dan from Master Ochi, the JKA’s overall head in Germany.

“Having grown up in the mines as a bootblack and caddy, I know how it is to be needy, and this experience while growing up propelled me to keep on reaching out to people who need help,” he said.

V. How people reach out to others

We’ve read of a couple who cancelled their elaborate wedding ceremony and feast and instead just got their marriage certificate. They turned over the would-be celebration money to charity.

There’s that man who asked for the leather shoes of members of a grieving family during a wake, shining them, ready for use for the funeral rites.

My friend Vic Sapguian has been packing gifts every Christmas and sending them for each child and teacher at the Sukib Primary School in his hometown in Besao, Mountain Province.

When Joanne Pimentel, an employee of the Commission on Human Rights here found out that the owner of a lady’s purse shoe found inside a jeepney was undergoing dialysis, she and her officemates passed the hat, adding to its content their donation for her medical expense.

On several occasions, pupils of Brent School here raised funds for patients whose plights they read about in the papers. Businessman, champion, car racer and alumnus Carlos Anton would match what they raised with an equal amount.

A lady professor now and then would pay for a dialysis or two of patients whose appeal for support she reads in the local papers.

There are many other heroes out there and this writer is inviting narratives about them, for their stories to inspire and lead us to their footsteps.

Maria Paz "Datsu" Feria Infante-Mollintas with her children and the writer.

Other news
:: The Luke Foundation Inc.:
Passion, service, and heroism in social work
:: Green thumbs make Baguio parks bloom
:: Roland Bay–an:
Painting the road less travelled
:: Coop formed by low–schooled mothers is now a multi–million asset
:: When helping becomes a way of life
:: The tale of a "special;" mom and an anti–cancer advocate
:: Ma’am Lipa: SPED Center’s silent teacher–camp
:: Building a better world for autism through photography
:: Helping hands, healing (he)arts
:: Taking the cudgels:
What we need to do for the Baguio We Want
:: Eduard Folayang:
From a poor boy to global sports icon
:: The doctor’s D.R.E.A.M. of fulfilling other&rsquio; dream

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