Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Man For Others

I was catching up on all the Ondoy news I had missed because I was abroad sans laptop. Scouring various blogs and message boards, I encountered tales of horror and tales of woe. Then I came across this story:

It is the story of an 18-year-old construction worker, Muelmar Magallanes, who, after evacuating his own family, went back to save his neighbors from being swept away when raging floodwaters engulfed their neighborhood - ultimately at the cost of his own life.

Below are excerpts, but I urge you to read the full story in the link I provided above:

"An 18-year-old construction worker braved rampaging floods in the Philippines to save more than 30 people, but ended up sacrificing his life in a last trip to rescue a baby girl and her mother who were being swept away on a styrofoam box.

He ended up making many trips, and eventually saved more than 30 people from drowning, witnesses and survivors said.

Tired and shivering, Mr Magallanes was back on higher ground with his family when he heard Ms Penalosa screaming as she and her baby were being swept away on the polystyrene box they were using in an attempt to cross the swift currents.

He dived back in after the mother and daughter, who were already a few metres away and bobbing precariously among the debris floating on the brown water.

"I didn't know that the current was so strong. In an instant, I was under water. We were going to die," said Ms Penalosa, her eyes welling with tears and voice choking with emotion.

"Then this man came from nowhere and grabbed us. He took us to where the other neighbours were, and then he was gone," Ms Penalosa said.

Ms Penalosa and other witnesses said an exhausted Mr Magallanes was simply washed away amid the torrent of water.

Neighbours found his body on Sunday, along with 28 others who perished amid Manila's epic flooding."

It was a heartbreaking tale, yet at the same time it was an affirmation of the human spirit. It made me wonder what makes a man a hero. I'm certain Muelmar did not do what he did out of some lofty goals of heroism or glory. He must have done it instinctively, without thinking. Like the fable of The Frog And The Scorpion,  what drove him to go back again and again in the face of death was beyond him: it was his nature. As his grieving father eulogized:

"Standing next to his coffin, Mr Magallanes' parents paid tribute to their son.
'He always had a good heart,' said his father, Samuel.
'We had already been saved. But he decided to go back
one last time for the girl.' "

We naturally think of our own families first before we think of others. Nothing wrong in that; it's in our nature. But to think beyond our families - that is something else altogether. To think of the welfare of others unrelated to us by kinship or friendship. It's called altruism.

When a loved one - be it friend or family member - tries to do something dangerous for others, we often tell them "Don't be a hero." For a good reason: heroes often die.

I cannot imagine the terrible anguish Muelmar's mother must have felt. She must've raised him well, to be a good, dutiful son, and to be considerate of others.

 His mother, Maria Luz, wept as she described her son as incredibly brave.
"He saved so many people, but ended up not being able to save himself."

How bittersweet is it to know that your son lived his life according to the values you taught him, but that he would pay the ultimate price for embodying those selfsame values?

What price, heroism?

There are other tales of courage, heroism, and selflessness amid the tragedy that was Ondoy. But I pay tribute to one Muelmar Magallanes for saving the lives of others at the cost of his own, including a mother and child who were not even his.

You are truly a man for others.

Godspeed, good sir.


  1. I think during these times of tragedies, we need to read more of these stories. Although tragic, I can't help but applaud his heroism.

    This is certainly a much better read than those pointless back and forth retorts about a certain facebook user.

  2. @ engel: I know what you mean about pointlessness. I've read many threads on Ondoy in forums that get derailed because of attacks on that brainless twit and of course, raging political debates.

    The story of this guy and the mag-ina that he saved was just too moving not to share.

  3. i caught this story in the news last night and i can't help but feel sad for the loss of muelmar. he was one good soul worthy of our emulation.

    for heroism? i bet not. it's humanity.

  4. @ john stanley: You hit it right on the head! That's the word right there. Humanity.

  5. i read about him a few days ago. the story brought me to tears. i didn't know heroes still existed.

  6. @citybuoy: Ah, heroes. What are heroes but ordinary people acting nobly under extraordinary circumstances?

    It made me teary-eyed, too. He - and others like him who gave up their lives so that others may live - should serve as inspirations for the rest of us. Unlike PR-hungry artistas and their starlet damsels-in-distress demanding star treatment and sucking in precious media attention even in the midst of a national disaster.