By Pet Melliza/The Beekeeper
By now, he could have been 53 and, if he married at 20, he would have grandchildren.
However, Roy B. Babas, gave up his life at a tender age because of a freak accident 41 years ago, January 24, 1971. He was 12 years old and a grade six pupil.
Babas, orphaned of both parents and cared for by his paternal lolo eked out a living on weekends and holidays ascargador, carrying luggage of passengers of vessels docking on the wharf of Estancia, Iloilo.
On school days, he studied at the Estancia Central Elementary School, writes his classmate and Boy Scout buddy, Jerry V. Bionat.
Bionat now heads the Iloilo Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) and proudly admits he is a grandfather today.
He recalls that Babas was a “vibrant 12-year old boy”, a very jolly person at all times, who was at the scene when a “freak squall (gusty wind)” blew on a docking El Cano ship at the dilapidated pier of Estancia. The vessel hit the side of the pier, listed and tilted, in the process, throwing several passengers overboard.
Babas jumped into the water and saved five passengers. He dived again and saved two more lives. He was unwavering. Onlookers shouted at him to get up the pier but he ignored them. He shouted back at them: “Boy Scout ako ‘ya! (I am a Boy Scout!)”.
When the ship smashed into the pier the second time after another gusty wind, the terminal portion of the pier collapsed, sending a pile of wooden crates tumbling down, one of which hit the boy in the water. Babas lost consciousness and second later, sank.
Yours truly have attended lectures by Bionat on disaster management and response, and quite often, he would recall the story of Boy Scout Roy B. Babas, who he described not only as a Boy Scout hero but also, a model in disaster preparedness. Babas was a good swimmer, a skill that enabled him to save seven lives during the freak accident at the Estancia port.
Bionat recalls that when he had his last glimpse of the remains of his boy Scout buddy, he silently promised to campaign for the latter’s recognition as a local hero befitting of having a monument erected to his memory. His buddy was in full Boy Scout khaki uniform as his body lied in state.
That silent promise will now be a reality, after 41 years. Come July 25, at 2:30 pm, the statue of Boy Scout Roy B. Babas will be unveiled at the Estancia Central Elementary School. The memorial is a collaboration among the Iloilo Provincial Government led by Gov. Arthur D. Defensor, Sr., brothers Jerry, Edgar and Jeremy V. Bionat, the local council of the Philippine Boy Scout, the Estancia Municipal Government, the Department of Education, and the local disaster risk reduction and management offices.
Bionat adds that the occasion will also honor pioneers and benefactors who introduced the scouting movement in Estancia, among them the late Jeremias P. Bionat, then the “master teacher” at the school, and the scout master of Troop 409.
Jerry V. Bionat writes a long “ambalaybay” for his martyr-buddy, and let me reproduce three stanzas of it:
“Sadto sa banwa sang Estancia/ May bata sa temprano ilo na siya/Ginbatiti sa amay nga lolo/Sa pantalan nadaku kag nanuto.
“Siya magamay, apang mabukod/Sa obra masyado gid ka hugod/Siya Aresgado, apang maamiguhon/Palakadlaw sa tanan nga tion…
“Yadto siya Boy Scout nga akon buddy/Sg grade six pa lang kami/Si Roy Babas ang iya ngalan/Kabuhi guinhalad sa nagakinahanglan…”
(In the town of Estancia/there was a boy who was orphaned at a young age/He was taken cared of by his paternal grandfather…
He was small yet sturdy/He was hardworking/He was daring but friendly/ Very jolly at all times
He was my Boy Scout buddy/ We were in grade six then/Roy Babas was his name/ He gave up his life to those in need…”)
The recognition may have come 41 years after his supreme sacrifice. But that only shows one fact: despite the absence of a memorial in all those years, Roy B. Babas, has always been remembered.