29 October 2013

A Cop With A Golden Heart

The Young Ezzeah
Police Officer 3 Edgardo Abastar Figuracion II is one police officer that I was hoping most people will try to emulate. His story made quiet a buzz a few years back when he decided to adopt a three-month old baby who just survived a massacre in Zamboanga Peninsula back in 2006.

Promoted to the rank of Senior Police Officer 1 since then, Figuracion now is back in the limelight after having been chosen as among the 10 winners of the Metrobank’s prestigious search for the Country’s Outstanding Police Officers in Service this year.

The story started when a 25-year-old farmer entered Purok 2 in Barangay Lourman entered the home of 35-year-old Arlyn Panares Paragoso late one night. Paragoso's husband was not at home and she was alone with two of her three children.

It was not clear whether the suspect, Teotimo Gulahib, had forced his way in. What was clear from police reports and witness interviews was that he attempted to rape Paragoso in the presence of her children.

In a memorandum from the Philippine National Police (PNP) Provincial Office in Camp Abelon in Pagadian City, Police Senior Supt. Ramon Martinez Ochotorena reported that the victim (Paragoso) resisted which ended badly. Paragoso and her 4-year-old son Lenmar were found dead from multiple stab wounds. In the course of the crime scene investigation, the police found a month-old baby girl, bleeding from wounds on her wrists and chest.

At the hospital, the father, a tricycle driver, told the social worker that if the baby died, to put her beside her mother. But if the baby survived, he said there was no way he could care for her.

"He wanted to turn over the child to the government, or to anyone who wanted to adopt her," says Rebecca Guillermo, Social Welfare Officer 11 from Pagadian City.

For the next three months of her life, 'Baby Girl' lived in a hammock slung between two hospital beds, cared for by nurses and social workers carving out minutes from their own eight-hour shifts.

In May 2006, Figuracion was on a humanitarian mission at the Zamboanga del Sur Provincial Hospital when he spotted the now 4-month-old baby soiled and dirty at the Zamboanga del Sur Provincial Hospital. Figuracion, 36, was a volunteer nurse making the rounds with the PNP medical unit. He saw that blood had dried on the infant's skin and bandages. She was running a fever, and her diaper sagged.

Figuracion, together with a team composed of the police, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and hospital representatives searched for a foster family for the baby. There were many childless couples that answered the call, but no one wants a baby with an injured hand.

"There was a couple who came in," Figuracion recalled. "When they saw her hand, they said she would be no good at doing laundry when she grew up. A week went by. We tried everything and still no one would take her."

It was during that time that Figuracion made an offer and the search team took him seriously. He broached the idea of taking the baby home to his wife, Louela, and their 4-year old daughter.

"We had just finished paying for diapers and milk," he said, "And I was the only one with a job. But she (Louela) didn't say no. She said, "Let's see her in the hospital.""

Together they went to the hospital. Louela said very little when she was led to the ward. But when the couple went home, she was carrying the baby.

Life has not been easy. Figuracion's family are in dire financial need. The DSWD came through with a stipend of PhP 2,500 a month, enough to support an average baby, but less than enough for an injured infant.

Figuracion needed to worked several part-time jobs to provide for a baby that occasionally had to be rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night. Some days, he taught at a nearby caregiver school. On other days, he worked as a doctor-recommended 'escort for hire,' accompanying patients with brain injuries on the ambulance.

Today, the baby is now a Grade 1 pupil (pictured above in yellow shirt with her siblings) who is like any other ordinary school girl, having recovered the full use of her right hand after a series of surgeries made thru the courtesy of Good Samaritans from the Philippine National Police and the Ninoy Aquino Foundation and the civilian populace.

Figuracion was also given a court authority to officially adopt the child whom he named, Ezzeah. His other children are Ezekiah, the eldest, and Ezekiel, the youngest.

With his wife away for police training, it is Figuracion who cares for the three children every day.

"When you have a system, it gets easy. When we have time, I take them out with me on my motorcycle. The smallest in front, Ezzeah behind me, Ezekiah behind her. We ride to the park, or to the edge of the sea. I never get tired of them. When I see them, the tiredness goes away. They're my best friends," he says.

Every few months, Figuracion brings Ezzeah to the Philippine General Hospital in Manila so doctors could operate on her injured hand. So far, their trips to Manila were sponsored by retired Chief Supt. Angelo Sunglao and PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa.

Four-year-old Ezzeah knows she is adopted. She is reminded of it every time she is asked about the cast on her arm, or whenever she hears neighbors talk of the killings. When asked about her mother, Ezzeah says her 'mama' died in a massacre.

"I know she doesn't know what it means," Figuracion says, "but when she grows up, she won't be surprised and she won't be hurt."

News of Figuracion's good deeds and heroism went viral in 2006. In fact, several documentaries and articles on his life have been made by almost all newspapers and television companies in the country.

Today, SPO1 Figuracion, a nurse currently assigned at the Regional Health Service 9 in Pagadian City, still shares his story to the public.

"I believe that Figuracion's story has served as an inspiration to others and somehow helped uplift the image of the force," said Sunglao.

Born in Pagadian City, Figuracion is holder of a Masters in Nursing from the Misamis University in Ozamis City and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the De Ocampo Memorial College in Manila. He joined the police force in 1999.

Prior to his inspiring story, he also had figured in some notable anti-crime operations by his unit. He was still a Police Officer 1 when he joined an operation that led to the arrest of six so-called "untouchable" drug personalities in Purok Mauswagon in Aurora, Zamboanga del Sur on 1 July 2002. All suspects were charged in court for violation of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

He also arrested on April 2002 a notorious thief in Aurora municipality identified as Roger Lisondra alias "Black Bug" on the strength of a warrant of arrest issued by a local court.