07 August 2008

Boy Hero From Iloilo

Rodney Berdin with GMA
During President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's State of the Nation Address (SONA) last 28 July 2008, the country got their first glimpse of the 13-year old boy from Iloilo who managed to save his entire family when Typhoon Frank struck last month.

Rodney Berdin got a standing ovation and the loudest applause from more than 300 powerful personalities in government as he received the honor for his heroic act of braving the rampaging floodwaters to get his mother Maria, 40, brother July, 7, and sister Jonna Mae, 3, to safety on that fateful 21st day of July.

>His heroism and bravery are something that this country needs to uplift the spirit of its people in the light of several politicial and economic difficulties they now face. The unabated increase in the prices of oil and rice as well as the alleged 'hush-hush' way to get the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Moro-Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) approved was temporarily forgotten as Rodney stood tall in front of his audience.

Nestor P. Burgos Jr. of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) tried to piece together what really happened to the Berdin family and how Rodney overcome the natural elements to become the big small-man of their house.

According to the PDI story, Rodney was outside their hut at around 7 a.m. in Barangay Rumbang, around 50 meters from the Sibalom River, when he heard a rushing sound moments before their house was swept away.

Despite only learning to swim last year, Rodney immediately rushed to help July who was injured when a wooden post from their house suddenly fell on his foot. He helped his brother climbed a sturdy and thorny stump of camachile tree and specifically told him to stay there no matter what.

Not far from where they were, Rodney saw his mother, who was cradling his sister, being carried away by the flood. He made sure that July is secure before he again swam the murky waters to get his mother and sister out but the strong current is preventing them from wading back to solid grounds.

The three were later able to hold on to a drift wood as they tried to stay afloat for more than two hours. Rodney repeatedly tried to calm his mother down because she was struggling to stay afloat while holding on to Jonna Mae.

Maria said she was crying because she was afraid she would lose grip of her daughter. She was also worried about July.

Thinking that the continued struggling will only do them more harm than good, Rodney decided to take off his shirt and pants so that his mother could not anymore grab him and to just remain calm.

Maria had difficulty staying afloat because she was trying to keep Jonna Mae above the surface of the water. She was also still wearing pants, which she refused to take off because she had kept PhP 1,000 (US$22.25) inside a pocket, her earnings from cutting bamboo trees.

The three held on the drift wood for a couple of hours, until the waters that threatened their lives earlier brought them near the riverbank where they were able to climb a camachile tree. They stayed there for about seven hours until the water subsided.

"I prayed to God to help us while we were holding on to the tree. I feared that the water would still rise higher and reach us," Rodney said.

Rodney’s uncle, Rodrigo, came for them around 4 p.m. He also fetched July who was still on the thorny tree where Rodney had left him, blodied but alive.

The family arrived around 6:00 P.M. at the village elementary school, which had been converted to an evacuation center. They stayed there for about a week.

And the rest as they say is just history.

Rodney returned to a hero’s welcome in his hometown in Belison in Antique on 29 July 2008. Hundreds of students, government workers and concerned individuals, regardless of politicial affiliation, lined-up the streets to welcome Rodney and his family.

A first grader, Rodney had left school to help his 'mango-ngopra' or copra-worker mother. When asked if he wants to go back to school after all this, Rodney answered in the affirmative. "I want to help others," he added.

Now, I wonder if our politicians can emulate this selfless act and attitude? My guess is that I will continue to wonder endlessly.