A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.

By Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s not as bad as it looks. My future mother Zenaida Cleofas under the brown river of Bocaue bulacan. The year was 1993.

The anniversary of the Holy Cross of Wawa. In the river of bocaue. Zenaida Cleofas on board the floating Pagoda. A decorated barge like a Giant crown of  Queen Elizabeth made of flowers and wooden structured.  All the passenger are dress in old tradition classic saya for ladies and barong for men’s. The scent of different flora is in the air. You can see the joy and excitement painted in their faces. Except for one boy, a native of south Philippines. He looks a bit strange. As if something wicked is about to happen.

The capacity of the Pagoda is around 200 devotees. Due to lack of discipline among the organizer they allow to squeeze in 300 people on board. The integrity of the pagoda was compromised. For Devotees who failed to climb on board. They swim and cling on the side of the pagoda. It created imbalance to the barge. The pagoda all of a sudden became very unstable it turns turtle. More than 300 devotees toss out of the pagoda into the water. Some tenaciously cling on the inverted pagoda, some devotee get panic they start pulling each other. Others end up in flood plain, the deep side of the river. Some trap under the inverted sinking pagoda. The 12 year old boy name Sajid Bulig. Jump out of the barge before the flip. The boy reaches the shore in no time.

Senaida Cleofas break away from the rest of the devotee after the flip. She was not a trained swimmer but her mind set for survival is unquestionable. She knows she doesn’t have the stamina to reach the high river bank. But By holding to a scrap  Styrofoam from the pagoda, about a size of a shoe box and a combination of mere luck She end up in the marsh area. She was able touch down her toes on top of a plastic beer case, after the Styrofoam disintegrated into several pieces. She sank for about 8 inches deep under water then she used the plastic beer case as a spring board to risen her head out of the water and renew air content in her lungs. She keeps her rhythm. She Hold her current position as long as she could until the rescue arrive. It’s a Sink and float situation.

Twelve life guard jump to river to rescue Hundreds of drowning victims. Two of them swam back immediately to the shore. The victims became desperate they swarm to the life guards like leeches. They drag them down to extinction.

Everyone was rattled and stunned with the gravity of the problems on hand. A 10 year old girl clings on a piece of wood in the middle of the chaos shouting for help. The mother desperately looking for the life guard. But nobody responded to her call. She decided to take her own life by joining her daughter to Death River. The bystander stops her.

The 12 years old elementary student name Sajid Bulig had enough of what he sees. He takes charge jump into the river. 1 dozen victims swarm on him. But Unlike the other life guards Sajid is no ordinary boy. He was fast, agile; he can hold his breath longer than an average human being. And he was not afraid of the deep. The boy took all of them to the river floor. The devotee releases their holds to sajid. The boy rises again from the river floor and snatches the 10 year old girl in the middle of the chaos. Both of them reach the shore safe. Sajid jump swam back and forth and save another 5 minors. Sajid Bulig renews the confidence of the other life guards. Several of them joined the rescue.

Just when Zenaida Cleofas about to see the end of days. Her left foot cramp. She starts to sink in the marsh.  No strength to spring board her self. Her body temperature drops.  Hypothermia is taking effect on her.  Bubble of oxygen escapes from her mouth. Out of the blue an arm of a hero pulls her up. Then assisted her to climb the river bank.

The final look at the giant Pagoda before the sank. A Waving arm of a 13 year old girl trap inside. What a perfect way to say goodbye, to her love one. The mother with tears in her eyes, and a lost for words. Looks at the life guards. None of them responded. Turn their heads down. Sajid body cold as ice shaking cover with blanket, after participating in several successful rescues. The mother of the girl turn to Sajid. She Stare at him like a mother to a son. Then she kneels holding the two feet of Sajid begging for the impossible. Sajid look down at the woman in pain. In no time He decided to do what his fellow country men will remember him forever.

Sajid made a sign of the cross. Then dive again in the cold water. He witnessed the grotesques. More the 200 dead corpses drowned under the river. Most of them Eyes wide shut. Sharp Wooden debris everywhere blocking his path. It ripped his flesh. Sajid saw the way with the help of the natural sun light. He was able to locate the girl. Sajid said to the girl. It is very unfortunate we meet this way. Please listen to me carefully close your eyes. Don’t open it until we reach the shore. The last thing we need is a distraction. Inhale all the air you can take in your body, hold your breath. We will take a deep dive, hold my hand tight flip your feet constantly, I promise we will reach the shore in no Time. With Out a warning a big piece of wood, a scrap from the damage pagoda drop like a French guillotine hitting Sajid on the head. He was bloody as hell. His vision was affected. But sajid is determined to finish the mission. He uses all his remaining strength. They dive together, cross the river of death and bring the 13 year old girl safe in the shore. Upon reaching the river bank Sajid collapsed.

The citizen of Bocaue still managed to bring Sajid to the nearby hospital but the young boy was not immediately attended by physicians. The hospital at that time was swamped with victims.

Sahjid died at the age of 12 and was declared later as a hero of the 1993 pagoda tragedy.

A Link


Story by Nonoy Manga

Hand drawn by Nonoy Manga


Nonoy Manga