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Ondoy’s selfless heroes shine in the face of tragedy

“Thank goodness we are all safe," said the text message Army Corporal Adriano Regua never got to read. The officer, while attempting to rescue a fallen companion, was overpowered by rampaging flood waters a few hours earlier.
Servicemen help out in relief operations in areas badly hit by 'Ondoy.' Some soldiers, who took part in rescue operations, were killed saving lives. GMANews.TV
When tropical storm ‘Ondoy’ ravaged Metro Manila and its neighboring towns on Saturday, Regua and his group were one of the first rescue teams deployed by the Philippine Army. The unit braved raging currents in Mabitac, Laguna, to bring 200 residents to safety. While battling heavy rains and persistently rising floods, Regua did not hesitate to rescue a member of his team when strong currents dragged the soldier under water. Even after much determination, however, both men succumbed to the overwhelming force. The text message was sent by Regua’s wife, who was saved from the deluge by another army team from their home in Tanay, Rizal with their daughters. “Ang kunswelo ko lang, namatay siya na nagse-serbisyo. Iyon naman talaga ang gusto niya eh (I find consolation in the fact that he died serving others. That’s what he wants anyway)," the widow said, glancing at the flag-draped coffin beside her. Accompanying Regua’s team were members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu), among them Florencio Dequino. He lost his life as he struggled through flood waters while bringing stranded people to safety. His family mourns his death with a sense of pride. “Ikinararangal ko po siya maging tatay (I am honored that he is my father)," said Dequino’s said, his voice shaking. Other members of the Cafgu team who sacrificed their lives while saving the residents of Mabitac were Joel Hernalin, Erineo Olaguer, Pedro Montefalcon, and Artenio Descotido.
Several caskets are lined up inside an evacuation center in Bagong Silangan, Quezon City. Joseph Holandes Ubalde
Losing a son In a different part of Laguna, another soldier displayed exceptional courage in the face of tragedy. Pfc. Venancio Ancheta was carrying a resident of Famy, Laguna to safety when a log struck him. Without thinking twice, Ancheta continued to struggle with the turbulent flood waters to get a stranded resident out of harm’s way. Weakened by the blow, however, the valiant soldier could not fight the flood waters any longer. After saving 20 people, Ancheta was swept away by strong currents, but his heroic effort inspired his teammates to rescue hundreds more. ‘Ondoy’ rendered many Filipinos victims, but there were also numerous stories of heroism amid the disastrous impact of the storm. In the face of tragedy, soldiers and civilians alike offered life and limb to those who were most in need of assistance. “Kung hindi dahil sa kanya, wala din kami ngayon," a grateful Menchie Penalosa said as she recounted how a neighbor saved her and her daughter from a potentially watery death. As flood waters swirled around the urban poor community of Bagong Silangan in Quezon City, Menchie found herself on the roof with her baby in her arms. The galvanized iron roof had been separated from the rest of the house and turned into a boat of sorts, carrying the two along the roaring currents. With a sudden jolt, Menchie’s baby slipped from her arms. Muelmar Magallanes boldly swam through the rampaging waters to bring the baby to safety. The 18-year-old rescued many others – kids, elderly, even animals, his mother said – but was unable to save himself. While still attempting to save other neighbors, a wall collapsed on top of the strong swimmer and a television set fell on Muelmar’s head, killing him instantly. Maria Luz Magallanes lingers beside her son’s casket, crying uncontrollably as neighbors pay their last respects to the man who gave them a second lease on life.
The spirit of "bayanihan" is alive among villagers helping each other to brave the floods to reach their destination. GMANews.TV
Stories of survival Others were lucky, escaping these life-threatening situations with their lives - and others’ – intact. An amateur video showed the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center at the height of the storm, its parking lot completely submerged in flood waters. The currents were so strong the cars floated around helplessly, only their roofs visible from the upper floors. A woman clambered up the roof of her car as the waters rose, looking helpless in the deluge. Hospital guard Jason de Guzman quickly jumped into the waters to reach her, confronting the raging torrents head on just to ensure the woman’s safety. He was only doing his duty, de Guzman said. “Sana maging inspirasyon ito sa lahat ng guwardiya. Gampanan po natin ang ating dapat gampanan (I hope this becomes an inspiration to other guards. We should always perform our duties)," was all he said about the incident. Even people who were stranded in their homes tried to help the residents that ‘Ondoy’ caught by surprise. Social networking sites have been working overtime, as Netizens urged their friends and family to help in the rescue and relief efforts. Concerned citizens from all over the world encouraged others to donate whatever they can to help those who lost everything in the floods. Despite the nightmare the nation’s capital experienced, a ray of hope exposed itself, as selflessness reigned amid the disaster. – GMANews.TV