In the company of legacy builders and healers

Published October 29, 2022, 10:30 PM

by Deedee Siytangco

Our thoughts and prayers are for our beloved who have passed from this world this All Saints Day. Some went through excruciating pain before being called by the Creator; some passed away mercifully, in a matter of hours or days only. In whatever way we lost them, they are in our hearts and they left beautiful memories and legacies.

Today we share a touching essay from a “senior,” who has built up a huge legacy for the following generations. He is Tony Meloto, founder of the non-profit foundation Gawad Kalinga, now a model the world over.

“After a long and lonely struggle with depression and suppressed rage, I’m gradually finding freedom from the doom and gloom of old age.

Growing old need not be the final curtain but the birth of new dreams and the fuel of new passions. Providence led me to Paraiso Village Farm in San Jose, Batangas for my retirement five years ago when my heart and spirit had lost the spark to live.

But my Maker was apparently not done with me yet.

Paraiso turned out to be a healing farm, where the lonely, injured, and broken came to be healed. Morning mass with Fr. Tito Caluag and rosary at night with my wife helped strengthen me to overcome my addiction to anti-psoriatic drugs and steroids. I was experiencing depression and irrational behavior. I healed gradually by replacing chemical drugs that caused liver damage and inflammation of the brain with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant food supplements like turmeric tea and VCO.

And a host of wounded angels came to Paraiso to help me.

Bobby Joseph, who endured stage 4 cancer for 15 years, was my principal healer. He had such a zest for life despite his excruciating pain for years.

Bobby came regularly to Paraiso with his wife Ida as they built the Serenity Chapel to honor the memory of their son Richard. He was an avid volunteer of Gawad Kalinga in Baseco while he was a student at La Salle. The chapel became a home to the memory of this great young man and a sanctuary of solace and peace for many troubled souls like me.

We spent every Thursday lunch at their home throughout  the pandemic to calm our spirit. We formed the Rich for All Foundation to care for the lonely elderly and subsistence farmers through their fear and uncertainty.

Together, we fed a thousand evacuees  n  San Jose and Cuenca during the Taal eruption and built toilets and baths at their evacuation center.

Seniors Faith Club was born on Feb. 14, 2020 to give good food and cheer to 200 indigent elderly, who were the most devastated. The movement grew in the course the Covid-19 pandemic.

To create profitability for sustainable philanthropy, kind-hearted friends opened the doors of many plush villages to our weekly delivery of fruits, vegetables, and eggs from Paraiso and other farms to improve the lives of farmers.

Then we had the “big bang” at Paraiso recently. It was the first-in-the-world Seniors Hope Expo for over a thousand seniors from 18 towns and cities of Batangas. The good angels joined forces with us for a whole day of feasting, fun and fellowship with the often lonely and forgotten elderlies. The ladies wore their resplendent ternos, talents overflowed in the ballroom dancing, singing, cooking and cultural competitions and presentations. The awesome Batangueno cuisine came with Ralph’s Corona beer and wine.

It was a “walang bawal” day. The seniors could eat and drink anything, even play mahjong. The Rotary Clubs of Manila and Pasig bought a lot of products while Rotary Muntinlupa gave away 300 reading glasses.

Many stayed until midnight, dancing to the music of Heart and Soul and Spirit of ’67 bands, entertained by the spirited singing and dancing of Christopher De Leon and his sister Melissa De Leon Joseph.

The Bobby Joseph Award for the town with the best exhibit and program for senior citizens went to Bauan with Ibaan and Talisay coming in a close second and third. Governor Dodo Mandanas, 78, was given the Most Outstanding Batangueño in Public Service Award while 84-year-old Antero Javier of Cuenca won as the Most Inspiring Batangueño for being a top entrepreneur from humble beginnings. He never left his town despite his business success and his wife of 60 years and seven children, who all have college degrees.

The San Jose LGU led by Mayor Ben Patron, a senior citizen, laid out the red carpet for guests like Senator Tito Sotto, principal author of the Senior Citizens Law; Franklin Quijano, chair of the National Commission for Senior Citizens; and health and beauty enthusiast Cory Quirino.

Now all roads will lead to Batangas Lakelands on Dec. 8 for the Seniors Faith with three milestones—Immaculate Conception, Batangas Foundation Day, and Christmas. This will be hosted by legacy builder Bong Belen and kindred spirits Ric Casabuena, Nelson Terrible, and Talisay Mayor Nestor Natanauan.

Nelson, the owner of Balai Isabel Resort, had a quadruple heart bypass last year. He now enjoys the gift of a new life. He is a generous benefactor of the Senior Citizens of Talisay.

Ric has not been deterred by a painful spine condition to personally help many in need with  an ambulance, a Sports Center, and the Church of St Therese of the Child Jesus in his hometown.

Talisay Mayor Nestor opened his NDN Resort Hotel for the seniors’ thanksgiving celebration. The event ended with a flash mob of seniors dancing with abandon.

I am blessed to be in the company of legacy builders in this final chapter of my life. They have reached a level of transcendence beyond politics and business. It is about gratitude for a blessed life. In the final reckoning, everything belongs to God and those who will come after us.”

Thank you, Legacy Builders!