MANILA, Philippines – You would not think of Noli Cua dela Cruz as a hero. A little over 5 feet tall, shy, and unassuming, Dela Cruz easily disappears in a sea of uniformed men and women of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
But Dela Cruz is as heroic as heroes can get. When powerful storm surges caused by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) engulfed his barangay in Tacloban City, Dela Cruz and his two sons managed to save 10 families – 36 people all in all – from sure death.
On Monday, April 1, Dela Cruz was awarded the Medalya ng Katangi-tanging Asal or the PNP Outstanding Conduct award for his actions, during the Araw ng Parangal sa Kapulisan.
Dela Cruz, the only non-uniformed personnel to be awarded, says he didn't think twice about helping his neighbors during Yolanda. It was at 5 am, he recalled, when his entire family moved into his brother's home for shelter. The skies were still clear.
A few hours later, the shoreline started to recede. Before he could realize what was happening, the full force of Yolanda hit Tacloban – the water rose high and fast.
"Nandiyan naman, safe naman yung mga anak ko at asawa ko. Yun lang nasa isip ko – makasagip lang ako ng tao. May mga kumakaway, nagsisigawan. Yung iba hindi na maka-ahon, may mga sasakyan na naanod," recalled Dela Cruz.
(My family was already safe so my focus was on saving people. They were shouting, asking for help, some could no longer rise from the water, cars were being washed away.)
Dela Cruz and his family knotted their clothes to make a rope – the lifeline of 36 people to safety. "Naghanap ako ng pantalon, ng kung anu-ano. Tapos pagsagip namin, pinatulong namin yung kapatid ko, mga asawa na hanapin yung mga dapat para mahagis sa bintana," he said.
(I started looking for pants, different kinds of clothes. After we'd rescue people, we asked my sibling to help, wives we asked them for help in rescuing others too – looking for more clothes so we could use them as a rope.)
Today, Dela Cruz and his family are still homeless. They make do with a tent as their shelter, much like thousands of survivors in towns and cities ravaged by Yolanda.
His only wish? To have his own home again. "Gusto ko magkaroon talaga ng bahay para makaahon na ako. Kulang talaga ako ng income, ano lang ba kinikita ko? Wala na kaming bahay at gamit, talagang na-wash out lahat," he said.
(I want to have my own house so we can rebuild our lives. My income isn't enough. All our things were washed out during Yolanda.)
He knows there is a lot more to do in Tacloban – he still sees destruction everywhere. But for now, he says the award is a huge boost. He didn't expect to be recognized for what he did during Yolanda.
"Nakatulong ito. Maano sa katawan, okay rin," he said. (It helps, makes you feel good.) – Rappler.com