It is the day before All Saints Day, or “Araw ng mgba Patay”, the celebration of the Day of the Dead as it is called in the predominantly Catholic Philippines, and observed by Catholics worldwide. Families gather inside the cemeteries and remember their loved ones that have passed away. The above photo is taken outside of the Jordan Cemetery a few miles outside of San Miguel here in Guimaras. This is but a small tribute to a man that was a brother to my wife Melinda, and her brothers and sisters, and a devoted son to his Mother and Father who dearly miss him.
Luisito, or Luis, as he was called, left the Philippines at the age of 27 to work as an OCW (Overseas Contract Worker, now called OFW, Overseas Filipino Worker.) The tag of “Hero” is being put on these over 11 million workers sacrificing years away from their loved ones in order to make sure there is pan de sal and some rice for the family back home. “Hero” is a fitting description. Luis was a hero to his family back in Guimaras. He still is. He sent the majority of his money back home to his Mother and Father, and brothers and sisters. Luis was close in age to my wife Melinda, and her best friend.
Luis first worked at the international airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as a baggage handler, loading luggage on departing jets. While working in the airport, a fellow Filipino co-worker was caught stealing from some luggage. In an attempt to gain a less severe sentence for himself, when the authorities asked the thief if anyone else was involved, the man pointed to his fellow co-worker Luis. Immediately, and without any trial, Luis was imprisoned. Melinda and her family heard of his plight, and after months of petitioning Filipino government agencies, were able to secure Luis’ release after six months in that hell.
He came back to the Philippines, and struck up a friendship with a pretty Filipina teacher named Julie. But Luis had his Mother and Father and a total of nine brothers and sisters to support, so he went overseas again this time to work on a cargo ship as a houseboy for the ship’s captain. He would stay on the ship for a year, and go back with a better position on every ship he worked as he gained a reputation as a hard worker. He began writing his friend Julie back in Guimaras and they were married in late August of 1995. Luis did not have much time for a honeymoon, as he went back overseas again, this time for more money working on a oil tanker off the coast of Africa. Now he had a wife to support along with his family.
In mid-November, barely three months on the new job and only three months of marriage to Julie, the family received news that Luis had died as a result from an accident on the tanker. Dead at the age of 33. He left behind a million peso insurance policy, a little over 30,000 in USD, that would provide for his new wife and family for awhile. So my wife Melinda picked up the mantle and went to work in Singapore to be the next provider. And the next hero. She did not complain. She never does, and she is married to me.
A Filipino co-worker from nearby Iloilo that worked with Luis on the tanker got word to the family that Luis was murdered, he was not killed in an accident. Luis worked on the dock loading barrels of oil from the tanker. His Filipino friend and co-worker said there was a group on the tanker that wanted Luis’ help to steal some of the oil. Luis refused and was murdered by the gang. Two different autopsies were done on Luis, one said the cause of death was an accident, the other said foul play was involved. Nothing was ever done to set the record straight. God will sort it out. Here lies Luisito Servano Gange, a brother, a son, a husband, a hero.
(Luis left behind no children, but a family and widow that will never forget him. Almost 13 and 1/2 years after his death, his widow Julie went to my mother-in-law to ask her permission to marry again. Of course, my mother-in-law embraced her and gave Julie her blessing. Such is the way it is in the Philippines, my friends.)