GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – He stepped on the airport tarmac of General Santos City and took a few steps before pausing and steadying himself. It was the first time he flew in an airplane all his 71 years.
It was also the first time he again set foot on the place he left almost 40 years ago, in 1974, in search of a better life.
“Kasikatan noon ni Nora Aunor,” Edelberto Guevarra or “Mang Bert” lightheartedly recalled when he and his family sailed for Palawan where he worked for a logging company. (It was the height of the popularity of Nora Aunor.)
Life was uncomplicated then even though he would be away from his family for weeks because of his job as surveyor of the logging operations of a company owned by the Malunjaos. He worked for them when he was still in Kiamba, Sarangani.
Things changed when his wife Gloria suddenly left him in 1976. He has remained bitter since then.
“Pag-uwi ko wala na siya. Sinama niya ang aking mga anak,” Mang Bert said. (When I arrived home, she was gone. She brought with her our children.)
His eldest son Jobert was then 5 years old. He and his wife had another child, Mary Grace.
Worse, his wife sold their house in Puerto Princesa for a measly P50.
Alone and dejected, Mang Bert went to Manila and lost contact with his wife and children.
Even his siblings knew nothing of his whereabouts.
Helen Guevarra, second to the last of 9 children of Mang Bert’s parents Jose and Potenciana Guevarra, had only vague memories of their eldest brother.
She was in Grade 1 when his manong (Filipino term of endearment for older brother) left their house in Maguling (now part of Maitum town).
Life in Metro Manila was, however, not cut for Mang Bert. He ended up doing odd jobs — a laborer in Divisoria, a construction worker in Cabanatuan, a carpenter in Cavite. Age and the elements however caught up with him.
His last stop as a wanderer brought him to a waiting shed outside Green Park Village in Cainta, Rizal. He survived on food doled out in exchange for plastic bottles, discarded cardboard boxes, and scraps that he collected.
“Mangangalakal (Scrap seller),” he described his last source of food. But he said he was not totally worthless.
“May dalawa akong kumot at apat na unan, may kutsara at tinidor,” he proudly said, while holding back his emotions. (I have two blankets, 4 pillows, spoon and fork.) By then, he was already homeless.
Mang Bert’s earthly mansion was a big culvert on a vacant lot by the side of a waiting shed outside a middle class subdivision. He slept inside the culvert without any mat and covered one end of the culvert with his extra blanket.
His most prized possession was a stainless rosary which he said he found near his abode.
But life inside a culvert took its toll on Mang Bert. He now coughs intermittently although he considers himself strong for his age.
He can still read without the aid of eyeglasses, although he said he has almost forgotten how to write.
Until Cheryll Kay Serenina Amoloria approached him one day, Mang Bert was just another taong gala – a homeless wanderer.
All Cheryll wanted was to give the old man some money to buy some bread and coffee. She had noticed that Mang Bert was in the exact same spot every time she went to school at the ICCT Colleges in Cainta where she is taking up BSEEd.
Mang Bert’s image kept on popping in her mind and she felt the urge to strike a conversation with him. The opportunity presented itself when the passenger jeep she was riding stopped by the waiting shed where he was sitting on Wednesday, July 17.
Cheryll, it turned out, came from Tupi in South Cotabato, where Kiamba was a town. This was until Sarangani became a province in 1992.
When Mang Bert initially told Cheryll that he was from Mindanao, she turned all the more sympathetic. But when he told her that he was from ‘Diangas, tears rolled down Cheryll’s cheeks. (‘Diangas – from Dadiangas – was the colloquial name of General Santos before it became a city in 1968.)
“Sabi ko, sinadya na talaga ni God na pahintuin yung jeep dun mismo sa waiting shed na yun (I told myself God willed that the jeep stop by that waiting shed),” she said.
Cheryll gave Mang Bert P50, the price of his former house in Puerto Princesa, and promised she would be back after school. She did not even finish school that day and quickly came back. She brought him a hamburger and bottled water.
What was supposed to be just casual, one-time banter led to a flurry of events. In less than 48 hours, Mang Bert’s sister Helen suddenly appeared on Thursday, July 19, at the waiting shed.
Moved by Mang Bert’s story, Cheryll posted a photo of him on her Facebook account on the same day they talked. She added a few details about his life.
To her surprise, Mang Bert’s photo went viral and Cheryll was deluged with friend requests. Her post of Mang Bert also registered 10,385 shares.
At 10 pm, she received a call from Cora Emery, president of the Kiamba Natives Worldwide Organization (KNOW). She asked for details about Mang Bert’s whereabouts.
Emery, who is married to an American, also happened to have a Facebook friend who knew Helen was in Manila and who had Helen’s number. Emery immediately called Helen who, the following day, went to the waiting shed where her long lost brother was.
Helen, who has been working as a cook in a garment factory in Makati since 1991, could not believe her brother was still alive.
Her heart jumped upon seeing the back of an old man wearing a cap. They cried the most tearful cry when they finally came face to face.
Emery said her organization shouldered Mang Bert’s fare back home.
She also called Michelle Solon, wife of Sarangani Gov Steve Chiongbian Solon, who offered to take care of Helen’s plane fare. Helen herself had not taken a plane trip all her life.
Fortunately, the governor’s wife owns a travel agency. Booking Mang Bert and Helen on the same flight was a breeze.
When the siblings finally met, Helen had to tell him that their sister Emelita died on July 12. After falling from a hammock, Emelita damaged her spinal cord and became paralyzed. Her dying wish was to find Mang Bert.
Emelita got her death wish, though belatedly. Mang Bert and Helen landed at the General Santos City Airport in the morning of July 20.
Mang Bert and Helen waited for the arrival of Gov. Solon and rode a government-owned Toyota Grandia that brought them home in Sta Tual, Kiamba. They went straight to the wake of their sister Emelita where Mang Bert’s two children were waiting.
For Cheryll, it was a most incredible and unforgettable experience.
In a Facebook chat, Cheryll said, “Actually isang araw lang yun eh…pero parang ang daming nangyari sa buhay ko. Fulfillment, Happiness. Lahat-lahat nandun.”
(It was just a day…but so many things happened in my life. Fulfillment, Happiness. Everything was there.) – Rappler.com
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