By Czarina Nicole Ong-Ki
Have you ever wondered what you would do if you chance upon a bag of money or a wallet brimming with cash on the floor? You rummage through the bag or wallet and see no identification, and your eyes widen at the sight of the money – it’s way more than you earn in a year, or maybe more. You look around and check – nobody is rushing to claim the lost bag or wallet and nobody is watching you. What would you do?
For five regular Filipinos, the answer came concomitantly: Return the money to its rightful owner. They did not even wait for temptation to rear its ugly head before they began searching for the distressed person who lost their hard-earned money. Their malasakit (concern) for others far outweigh their own needs – never mind that the money they found can do wonders for their personal lives.
This is why Ombudsman Samuel Martires lauded Clark International Airport worker Grace Laxamana, a young boy Agustin Laude Jr., utility worker Ronald Gadayan, Ninoy Aquino International Airport worker Sixto Brillante Jr., and the late 1st Lieutenant John Frederick Savellano and awarded them with the distinction of “Aguhon Ng Bagong Bayani” on Thursday afternoon.
Laxamana, an indigenous person and Aeta from Mabalacat, Pampanga, was working in one of the airport’s restrooms when she saw a wallet containing foreign currency. Thinking only of the person who lost the cash, she promptly reported it to her supervisor, Villamor Lomboy, so they can help locate the real owner.
Laude Jr., who was only 10 back in 2012, was playing with his friend when he found a bag full of cash in a garbage pile. He turned it over to a barangay official, and his admirable act even made it to the news. His mother, Maricel, heard about her son making the news and was even worried that he took the money. Her heart swelled when she learned the truth. She even jokingly said that her son probably presumed the money found was only “play money,” since the only bills he was familiar with was P20.
The third awardee is Gadayan, who has returned large sums of money on several occasions, the biggest of which was P2.4 million worth of foreign currencies. Gadayan said it was not difficult for him to return the money, and he did not even think of slipping a few bills into his own pocket for the simple reason that he was not the one who worked hard for it.
Brillante Jr. shared the same sentiment. When he found a bag full of different denominations worth P450,000 at the airport, he only thought of doing the right thing. He refused to entertain thoughts of stealing the money even though he could have easily done so because his conscience would not have allowed him to.
The last award was given posthumously to Savellano, a marine who found P52 million cash money amidst the Marawi siege. Service has always been embedded in his DNA. When he was younger, he dreamed of becoming a priest. But he changed his mind along the way and joined the Marines. When he got hold of the cash, his mother, Mercenita, warned him not to do anything that would jeopardize his career. He reassured her that he was not raised to steal, and the money would definitely make its way back to its owners.
Savellano and his comrades could have easily just pocketed the money and split it amongst themselves. No one would have known. But Savellano could not bring himself to take what isn’t his. He even went back to battle in Marawi, until a bullet claimed his life.
His father, Federico, said there is a world of difference between a person who is “mabait” (kind) and “mabuti” (good). Undoubtedly, Federico said his son is good.
Martires praised these individuals for doing the right thing because many others would have just taken the money and walked by like nothing happened. “Kung wala silang respeto sa sarili nila, hindi na nila ibinalik ang pera (If they had no respect for themselves, they wouldn’t have returned the money),” he said.
The Ombudsman urged people to show their appreciation to people like Laxamana, Laude Jr., Gadayan, Brillante Jr., and Savellana while they are still alive. More often than not, Martires said these kinds of people are taken for granted.
“Nakakalungkot na may mga sumisilbi subalit bina-bale wala natin habang buhay sila (It is saddening that there are people who serve, but we take them for granted while they are still alive),” he said.
Each of the awardees received P50,000 from the Ombudsman.