She never dreamed for fame nor gifts from strangers, but 12-year-old Janela Lelis’ bravery in rescuing a Philippine flag amidst high waters and strong wind at the height of tropical storm Juaning had gained her public admiration, some expressed through windfalls of humanitarian donations.
A six-grader at the Malinao Central School in this third class lowland municipality, Lelis, by braving the hip-deep rampaging flood waters was able to save the national flag left on its pole when classes were abruptly suspended as the storm was starting to batter the place in the middle of the day.
She, however, lost to the flood her home where she stayed with her 19-year-old brother and sickly grandmother who has single-handedly raised them both since the death of their father when she was only nine-month old. Their mother left them over 10 years ago, and they never heard about her since then.
Somebody captured on camera the scene as the six-grader girl was battling the strong current of the flood waters and strong winds while carrying on a short pole the fully spread flag over her head down to her back and on the next day, the image appeared on YouTube and lifted by several web sites to spread the good news about her act of heroism.
It promptly reached Malacañang and President Benigno Aquino III commended the act with Presidential spokesperson Abegail Valte saying “it was an indication of something greater that resides on a person”. A tribute would be arranged for the girl, Valte announced in a recent radio interview in Manila.
More words of adulation were posted on the web, published by newspapers and said in radio and televisions but Lelis only heard about them from her teachers and classmates. She would only flash a smile in acknowledgement of the kind words.
Humbly, “it is my duty and of every Filipino to protect the flag because it represents our country. For us here in our school, the Philippine flag is sacred that we even do not allow it to touch the ground or contract dirt”, she told the Philippines News Agency in the local dialect when interviewed at her school on Tuesday.
The girl was wearing a new set of school uniform and new yellow rubber slippers while her school things were also new. “I lost all my belongings to the flood that swept away our house and everything in it. Some people known to me only after I saved the flag bought all these new things for me,” she narrated.
Lelis’ teacher-adviser Maritess Kallos said Pinoy Power Coalition of Volunteers (PPBCV) president Ofelia Samar-Sy, accompanied by Department of Education (DepEd) regional director Orfelina Tuy and some other local school officials came to the school last week to meet Lelis.
On Saturday, Sy brought the girl to Legazpi City for a shopping spree at a posh mall where all her new school uniforms and school supplies were bought. She was taken back home after the whole day shopping with a bulk of foodstuffs and other items including housewares to replace those that were lost to the calamity, Kallos said.
Reached in Legazpi City on Monday, Sy said the money used to buy the things for Lelis came from presidential sister Pinky Aquino-Abellana, a regular benefactor of PPBCV, a national organization of volunteers doing humanitarian works for indigent Filipino families.
Philanthropists Mariel Tolentino, Baby Teoseco-Crus, Emma Nieto and Sen. Franklin Drilon’s wife, Mila also sent cash and relief items for the girl and her family, according to Sy.
“When I saw Janelle (Lelis’ nickname), she was shy and seemed to have not realized why we were going crazy over what she did. She was even surprised and screaming of excitement by my invitation to bring her to the mall in the city, admitting that it was her first time to set foot on a classy shopping center. The girl picked up for herself the new pair of slippers, a baller and a headband,” Sy said.
Tolentino had also assured the girl and her family of a P6,000 monthly or P200 daily stipend as she insisted on her philanthropic intention after her adoption offer was turned down by Lelis who said she prefers to stay with her “kuya” and “lola”.
Sy said she had also heard that boxing icon and Saranggani Rep. ManNy Pacquiao has sent assistance to the girl and her family.
In Legazpi City, Bicol Regional Director Remia Tapispisan of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said she was instructed last week by Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman to help the Lelis family by providing livelihood opportunity assistance particularly to Janelle’s elder brother Edcel who earns a living only during off-school days by driving a pedicab.
Anton Lim of Tsu Tzi Foundation Davao who had also commended Lelis for her remarkable act, Sy said, had also coordinated with the PPBCV on the assistance the group is extended to the girl and her family while its Tabaco City chapter Antonio Tan and wife Therese had set this weekend a schedule to take her to shopping at the family-owned Liberty Commercial Center (LCC).
For her part, Sy, a medical doctor, said she is taking charge of Janelle’s 64-year-old grandmother’s health by providing free medical services and medications.
Lawyer Alex Lacson, known for his book “12 Little Things We Can Do For The Country” is encouraging people to emulate Janelle’s deed. “We must tell her story to our people especially the youth,” he said in a recent statement reaching here.
From reports by Danny O. Calleja.