“Sunog Baga”, Manila’s Faceless and Invisible Hero Michael A. Bengwayan



“Sunog Baga”, Manila’s  Faceless and Invisible Hero

Michael A. Bengwayan



Three weeks ago, at Zone 11-6, Tondo, Manila, Philippines, a rat-poor family of three, Nanay Sepia, and her two grandchildren, Meemang, 11 and Igsi, 5,  bade farewell to Sunog Baga. They put him in a shallow small grave at North Cemetery.


Except for seven close neighbors, no one cared. Why should they? Not many knew him. What for? After all, the stiff gaunt and stiff corpse of Sunog Baga, at 4 feet 9 inches dripping wet, when he was alive, was known as the neighborhood drunkard. A bum. Sot. Give me all the worst Thesaurus words of a worthless person.


So the few bade him farewell. Sunog Baga never saved a child from a burning inferno. Neither did he  ever swim to a sinking ship to pull out a drowning passenger. Nor did he ever jump at the middle of the road to save a child from an onrushing truck.

There will be no articles, much less stories, to be  written about him. For no one knows his name. And his life  won’t be gloried on the silver screen.

Slight in stature and haunched,  Sunog Baga  is everything in looks but a hero. His mild, innocent, quiet and unassuming personality, incensed only when intoxicated didn’t suggest that he will be either.  But Sunog personified the unsung hero who resides in all of the slums in Manila,  yet all too seldom rises to the surface.

Sunog is not a  highly motivated person  with enduring passion that characterizes heroes or volunteer  rescuers.

He was not trained and uncertified in firefighting and emergency medical services. He was  unwilling or afraid to stop and render assistance at automobile accidents, or to help the sick and injured in their time of need. He just don’t want to get involved.

Why would he sacrifice a decent drunken sleep to help total strangers in their time of need?

Why would he without pay, do a good deed?

But on August 12, this year, when the capital city of the Philippines has been drenched by heavy, deadly rainfall for 11 days now, leading to mudslides and extensive flooding. No one could explain how, Sunog was with rescuers, digging g alone through the rubble of a landslide to try to rescue people buried after a landslide hit Quezon City in suburban Manila.

Without hesitation or fear for his own safety, Sunog travelled to the scene of tragedy,  rushed into the stormy night to do something he never did. To help someone else in need.

He dug and dug, half naked and famished, forgetting the cold whip of the rain, the lashing wind and his hunger. Fully garbed rescuers were around him. But it was only he who kept on digging.  Before the day ended, they recovered three bodies, one, a girl, survived. Rescuers pushed Sunog aside, attending to the victims. Sunog decided to go home.

But Sunog never made it.  Cold and shivering, half fainting from hunger, he was mistaken as a thief. Community thugs beat him lifeless, to death.

No one knows of his heroism. No one will.  No one.

Life is full of storms.  And there will always be few and chosen people like Sunog.


Invisible heroes. Invisible in life. But who will leave us something we can never do in life.


Where is Your Place? Michael A. Bengwayan


I believe in beauty. I believe in stones and water, air and soil, people and their future, their fate and their place. Everyone has places that matter, even if they’ve only been there once in their lives. There are places where we feel most alive, most like ourselves. They are places of inspiration.

When I was a kid, the knoll on a hill was the safest place, most life-giving place I knew. Or the pine forest of the Methodist Church beside Easter School/College. I vividly recall the sting of being left out by my classmates because I had no money to buy snacks. I would hide during recess and go back to the classroom when the bell rings to resume classes. When I failed to get an honor roll in high school, I hid here, eating my broken heart and sadness. What saved me on those days was my affinity for place. I would close my eyes tight and forget my classmates buying sweets, candies, rolls and receiving awards at the quadrangle. I would conjure up an image that I had no need for those. That what I need is just a place to hide.

Somehow I knew that visualizing this place of peace—the chief place I felt a sense of wholeness and completion—would ease the inevitable pain of not being wanted or separated from my friends. Where healthy visualization ends and escapism begins, I did not know then. I do know now. But I do know that my sense of place and my ability to honor that connection was a great gift, uncovered early and still a valued resource in life.

I have great affection for the place I was born and reared, Baguio City, if only the family of Henry Sy, the city mayor, understand, and the place I live now—La Trinidad and Tublay. I’ve been in several US, European, Asian and African places but my heart is where I feel most placed. This almost ironic considering I spent so much time in many places. But with all my traveling, there has not been a time when I wasn’t relieved to see the pine trees of Baguio, the winding Bued river. I love Baguio for all that it is—culturally rich, reasonably progressive, friendly and very real—and for all that it isn’t—too crowded, becoming dirty, too full of itself. I hate Baguio for its corrupt and greedy politicians and businessmen. I hate its pretenders. I hate what it is becoming into.

I love the past, the present and the future. They are so closely connected. There are people who care for what Baguio must be. There are people like me who look at Baguio as sacred place because it brings our spirit into harmony with life in our daily living. We want a place where our minds are clear and fully present to life, and the world around us, because our place is sacred. We want to help create the place we love by ritually changing and physically mending our abused environment. It is a means for us to focus our mind of anchoring and aligning the flow of spirit and force to our physical environment.

Because this is our foundation. This is our place beyond place.

Greeting Earthshine

Greeting Earthshine

Michael A. Bengwayan


I woke up 3 am, the rain at it’s worst. My mind kept telling me I have to meet my deadline now or call it goodbye but the dark  cold four corners of the room and the battle between rain and wind made me retreat back to bed. Nothing is more welcome than a warm cot and two blankets at a time like this. Yet suddenly, I was awake again. It was still. Calm. I peered through the curtains,  there lay the forest. Quiet and at peace. Is the tempest gone? Bred by curiosity,  I  stepped out of the balcony, only to be met by the cold wind which jolted all sleep was left in me. Behold, there are stars in the sky. The rain is gone. So is the fog. Did Helen take it all away? If indeed, it has, it’s a miracle.


Grotesque shadows danced in the forest failing to hide they are but pine branches eagerly waiting for the sun. Will it come? Seeing me, Kingkong stretched all his frame, seven feet long from front to back paws, nudging me, eager for a run. I walked to the  gate and swung it open, Kingkong bolted out,  splashing on the deep puddles that reflect whatever is left of the sky.   


Inside, not a sound but the clock. No movement except the curtains wisps. PAGASA could not have been wrong again. It said moonsoon and heavy rains will linger for a week. If it was,  I’m glad of it. One of the best times that it can be wrong. Beyond the skyline, stratus clouds formed pushing away the stormy nimbus, writing words on the horizon far from any meaning to suit my dull mind’s perfection.


In the twig fortress, a cricket, nay, two Jiminys cry out, making up for lost time wasted by rainy days. I think back of my family, my grandson, perhaps with cirrus hair still cuddled asleep, lulled by the rain’s gently patters on the eaves last night.


Life is full of beauty. I can’t help noticing it. Beyond the billion stars, is always the sun. Welcoming. Today, I shall notice the bumblebee. The fallen millions of pine needles. Smell the departed rain,  and feel the wind in my face. I shall live my live once again, to its full potential. And fight for dreams that shine for life.