Gordon gets hug for helping girl 25 years ago
By Edson C. Tandoc Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MILAOR, CAMARINES SUR—Maritess Maderal, 39, had long been waiting for that one chance to again hug the man who took care of her for several months and treated her as his own child after she lost her mother and two siblings in a sea tragedy when she was just 14.
The opportunity came 25 years later: On Saturday night, Maderal introduced her youngest daughter Joan to Sen. Richard “Dick” Gordon.
Speaking in Filipino as her tears welled up, Maderal told Gordon: “Thank you very much.”
Maderal is one of the 42 survivors of the sinking of the MV Asuncion in December 1985 off Zambales when Gordon was the Olongapo City mayor.
Gordon brought her and another girl to his home, until Maderal’s father, who also survived the accident, fetched her from Gordon’s house several months later.
That was the last time they saw each other. Maderal was in sixth grade then.
She now has four children, the eldest of whom (17-year-old Joemel) has finished high school but cannot get into college because of poverty.
Gordon, a presidential candidate of the Bagumbayan Party, went to Camarines Sur province on Saturday for several activities, including the opening of a public health center put up by the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) and the Spanish Red Cross in a remote coastal barangay in Lagonoy.
He was scheduled to immediately proceed in the evening to a gathering of regional businessmen in Naga City, but a local coordinator managed to convince him to drop by at the Milaor Elementary School, where PRC volunteers were holding livelihood training for some 200 mothers.
Gordon never expected he would see Maderal there. “What a miracle!” Gordon exclaimed after seeing Maderal. “You were still very young when I last saw you!”
Maderal lives just 10 minutes away from the school. When she learned that Gordon would be gracing the training, she went to the school with her youngest daughter and other relatives, hoping that this time, after several attempts at catching him on the few occasions he visited Naga, she would be able to at least say hello.
Maderal broke into tears as Gordon embraced her, happy that her long wait was finally over.
Maderal was with her parents and three siblings when the MV Asuncion sank off Zambales in December 1985. They had come from Palawan, where they stayed for a year, and were planning to relocate to Metro Manila.
The tragedy ended their dream: Maderal’s mother Editha, her eldest brother Daniel and youngest sister Maricel drowned.
Maderal drifted on the sea for almost a day until she was rescued and brought to a hospital in Olongapo City. It was where Gordon found her.
Gordon decided to bring her and another girl, Lilibeth Acar, to his family’s house. Acar lost her family, while Maderal, at that time, was still clueless where her parents were and if they were still alive.
It turned out that Acar and Maderal were neighbors in Palawan. Finding refuge in Gordon’s home, they grew closer and even became friends with Gordon’s wife and children.
Maderal said: “They were very kind. They treated us like their own family.”
Gordon wanted to adopt her, but after eight months, her father Jose arrived to fetch her. Gordon brought them to a bus station and never saw them again—until Saturday.
Gordon said: “This is among the blessings I get in life, that these people survived.”
Maderal also asked Gordon about her friend Acar.
Acar, whom Gordon had adopted, stayed in Gordon’s house. The senator sent her to school and she now works as a physical therapist.
Maderal finished high school and got married when she turned 20. She now has four children. Her husband Meliton Jacob is a construction worker.
Maderal said: “I would always tell my children about him and how he saved me every time I saw him on TV.”
Gordon gave her his phone numbers with a promise to find a way to help her children go to school and to reconnect her with Lilibeth.
Maderal could not ascertain if she would get another chance to again meet the man who once brought her, an ordinary girl, into his home and treated her like his own child.
The one thing she is sure of: Gordon is getting her vote.