Life lessons from disaster survivor
By Margaux Ortiz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
THE recent sea disasters in Mindoro and Cavite have certainly put a damper on the usually festive celebration of Christmas and New Year.
Television newscasts and the front pages of newspapers were full of heart-wrenching images of grieving families torn apart by these tragedies.
“This coming of the new year always makes me recall what was both the most tragic and most important event in my life,” Fabunan told Inquirer.
The young teacher was one of the survivors in a motor-boat tragedy in Romblon that claimed the lives of 14 of his schoolmates and friends almost a decade ago. His grandmother, Norma “Noring” Fabunan, a councilor in their hometown of Concepcion was also a casualty.
“It was the worst tragedy experienced by Concepcion residents,” he recalled. “Many of those who died and remain missing to this day were high school students.”
It was on one of those bright summer days when the motor boat carrying 40 excited teenagers of Concepcion National High School and Sibale Academy left the small port of Concepcion early in the morning of April 2, 2001, to attend a youth camp in Looc, six hours away.
The only adults in the party were crew members, Fabunan’s Lola Noring and high school teacher Felix Famarin, the designated chaperones, said Fabunan, who was then only 14 years old.
The sea was calm as was expected in the summer when the boat left at 5:30 a.m. It was still calm when the boat suddenly tilted and capsized two hours later.
“To this day, we could not explain what happened. The waves were small and the current was not strong. I will never forget the time it happened because my schoolmate’s watch stopped at exactly 7:30 a.m.,” Fabunan said.
In the next few hours, Fabunan saw his grandmother drown, his classmates and friends drift away and disappear one by one, and his remaining companions lose all hope of being rescued.
“We were in the middle of shark-infested Tablas Strait, which was so deep the waters were almost black. We all thought we were going to die,” Fabunan said.
“I prayed so hard and did not lose heart even if my companions were already asking me to relay their last words to their families in case they don’t make it,” he added.
At 10 a.m., their teacher, Mr. Famarin, and three students decided to swim away from the boat to ask for help. Four hours later, Fabunan and two of his friends followed suit.
“We tied Lola Noring to what was left of the boat so her body would not be carried away by the current. Then we tried to find help,” he said.
At twilight, a ship passed by the area and rescued the survivors, including Fabunan.
They were brought to Man ila’s North Harbor the next day. But it was not after they arrived in Concepcion three days later when the horror of what happened started to sink in.
“I do not exaggerate when I say that the entire island grieved when we arrived. All you could hear were the wails of parents, relatives and friends that would make your hair stand on end,” Fabunan said.
He added: “We live on a small island, and more than merely knowing each other, everyone treats each other as part of the family. The people of Concepcion lost more than neighbors and students—they lost sons and daughters.”
The fact that most of those who died were all young, bright, full of life and with a promising future ahead of them made it all the more painful for the residents to accept what happened.
“For six years, no parent from Concepcion sent his or her children to youth camps in the other islands,” Fabunan said.
The effect of the tragedy on him was doubly hard. Though he was a survivor, he experienced a deep sense of loss with the death of his grandmother.
“Lola Noring should have been the first one to jump off the boat, but instead of saving herself, she made sure that all the children were safe first,” the young teacher said.
It was Fabunan’s Lola Noring who inspired him to finish his studies and become a teacher.
“I grew up loving the land and all the living things growing on it. Instead of playing games with other children, I planted corn, bananas and sweet potatoes with my grandmother,” he said.
“My lola was not able to go to high school, and she always reminded me that education was the only legacy she could leave me with,” Fabunan said.
This motivated him to pursue his college studies at Manila’s Arellano University where he graduated with a degree in education, with honors, in 2008.
A teaching career at Arellano University High School in Mandaluyong City, which had previously hired him as a student educator, immediately beckoned after graduation. There, Fabunan found his calling as a high school science teacher.
“I had always wanted to be either an agriculturist, a botanist or a zoologist. Being a science teacher was the closest I could get to realize this childhood dream,” he said.
“So far, I haven’t had the chance to share my experience with my students. The only opportunity I can see is when I discuss sea currents in science class,” he said with a laugh.
However, he has made a commitment to teach them values they need to live by, using his experience as example, but more important, to succeed in life.
“The values needed to accomplish both are essentially the same: courage, resolve, focus and a deep faith in God,” Fabunan said.
His dedication to his students has not gone unnoticed. Last Dec. 11, Fabunan received an Outstanding Teacher award from the school.
“That award was only an extra; the most important thing is making a difference in the lives of these students who remind me of myself when I was their age. While I had my experience to motivate me, I want them to have me motivate them,” he stressed.
Like Fabunan, several survivors of the tragedy are now teachers in different parts of Metro Manila: Judith Familaran teaches at the Burgos Elementary School in Manila; Floralyn Fadera has been assigned to Taytay, Rizal; Arlene Fallarme, in Caloocan City; and Catherine Feticio and Mark Fanoga, in Cavite.
“We all have our stories to tell, with different points of view of the same tragic circumstance. The challenge is how we make our students learn from these stories,” he said.