“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.