In the province of Zambales in the Northern Philippines,there is a shrine of the miraulous image of Ina Poon Bato,which means,in English, Mother of Poon Bato,Bato is a remote Barangay of the town of Botolan in Zambales.And in case you don't remember Zambales anymore,let me remind you that it is the home province of Ramon Magsaysay,the beloved President of the Philippines who died in a plane crash in Cebu in March1957.It is also the province where the world famous volcano that which erupted in 1991, Mount Pinatubo,is found.It is likewise the place where the feared US Subic NAval BAse ,"the vanguard of United States naval might,"was once located.
Although the image of the Ina Poon Bato has never been known by its English name equivalent,it is one of the many miraculous manifestations of the Blessed Virgin Mother of the Roman Catholic Church to be found in many places of the world.
Legend says the image of Ina Poon Bato was discovered in the 17th century by the natives of Zambales living in the slopes of Mount Pinatubo,the Aetas.Legend has it that it was not brought to this island by the Spanish colonizers.The aetas knew the image before the white people came to baptize the Blessed Virgin Mother, to which they have given the native name, Ina Poon Bato.She reigns in the hearts of many people and since "miracles" attributed to it "still happens",it is said even to this day,she is considered by Her devotees as,"their Mother,their Guidance and their hope".
The feast of Ina Poon Bato is celebrated every 23rd and 24th day of January in Barangay Poon Bato.Devotees from all over the country flock to this place before or on the feast day to pay homage to the "Ina".The church is on the top of the hill where you can see the beautiful panorama of the place.
During the preparations for the 25th Anniversary of the Devotion of Ina Poon Bato on January 23,2006 at the Ina Poon Bato Pilgrimage Church in the Loob Bunga Resettlement area in Botolan,one of the highlights was a Marian Congress. My second wife, Dra.Marianita O. Mendoza,who is a known devotee of the Ina, was invited one of the speakers in that Marian Congress.
The Feast of the Ina is undoubtedly the biggest fiesta in the Province of Zambales,a tourist brochure says,"with up to 200 000 people attending ."And since the original barangay of Poon BAto was Buried by ashes,and Mud and rocks after the Mount Pinatubo Erupted with great fury in 1991 ,the celebration is now held in the resettlement area of Danag Bunga where manyof the original residents of Poon Bato now live.The place the brochure assures ,is easy to reach from the town proper of Botolan.
IN THE EARLY '80s, sometime in 1983,I think, I happened to own an image of the Ina Poon Bato.It was given to me by Mrs. Rosellyn Enciso-Magsaysay,the good wife of the governor of Zambales,Gov.Vic Magsaysay.The good lady,who is a family friend,has the unusual habit of giving as a gift an image of Ina Poon Bato to close acquaintances and to spouses of mayors and governors.I considered myself one of the lucky people when I received the image of the "Ina"one fine day in the early '80s.It is about 18inches tall and artistically carved on a fine hardwood --a narra,possibly. The image was in full regalia in distinctive Marian Blue, white and gold,like and apparition of a divine queen in a dream.The image wears a shiny crown of thin metal with the color of light gold.
I valued the image and took care of it like it was of my favorite possessions.I had a special altar made for it at the St.Joseph the Worker Chapel, the chapel built by the ALU in the port area in the late '60s.
Thus, our union members had a glimpse of the miraculous image whenever they attended church services at our spiritual center in the port area. In time,the image became a part of the regular features of our chapel.
About two years later, in the late 1985,the ALU-TUCP received from Mrs.Edon Yap the gift of a five-foot image of the Ina Poon Bato.It was "delivered" to the home office of the union in Cebu by Mrs.Yap herself. Mrs.Yap is the sister of then First Lady,Mrs.Imelda Marcos and the good wife of Gen.Edon Yap,one of the President Mrcos' trusted generals.Mrs.yap together with her husband,Gen.Yap,came over to Cebu to gift the Union with the famous miraculous image.I think this was sometime in October 1985 when the election fever(I'm referring to the snap Presidential Elections of 1985) scheduled for the following month,November,had virtually infected most of the people of voting age.
I was happy receiving the image of the "Ina" on behalf of the union in 1985.Mrs.Yap told me that she was personally "instructed" to "deliver" the same to me being its National President.The image is not carved on wood.It is made of something like, fine white clay or fine concrete,or something like that.The image was painted light blue,white and gold.
With this image around, I had the small one given by Mrs. Rosellyn Enciso-Magsaysay brought home where I had an altar made for it also.The bigger image took over the place of the small one in our workers' chapel in the port area....
...On November 16,1995, Thanksgiving Day in the US,my operation was scheduled.My surgeon was Dr.Antonio Chan.
I still remember that on the eye of my operation,November 15 1995,Marianita and I prayed the rosary.We asked for God's Intervention for my successful operation.Of course,what I did then was nothing unusual for me.I have been praying the rosary daily since the time I took the bar examinations in 1952.I'm a devotee of the Blessed Virgin Mother .I felt I was lucky to receive all Her Blessings.
But I would like to say also that I had confronted many challenges in my life even if it was not easy for me to do so .I had to go through a lot of trials and sacrifices.In writing this book,for instance,was one of the big challenges I had to confront head on.
I still remember that on November 16,1995 ,the day of my second heart-bypass operation,all my children living in the US together with their spouses and children and especially Marianita,supported me physically ,morally and spiritually all the way.It was an early morning operation.I prayed hard before I was brought into the operating room.I asked God ,through the intercesson of the Blessed Virgin Mother ,that I would be able to get better soon because I still had so many unfinished tasks back home.Besides, I knew for a fact that members of the ALU-TUCP and the affiliated labor organizations of the TUCP especially those workers' enterprise ,the Oriental Port and Allied Services Corporation(OPASCOR),were offering Holy masses in churches for my successful operationand fast recovery.They wrote to me in the US to inform me about what they would do for my fast recovery.They were at the back of my mind when I was wheeled slowly into the operating room.These were the last thoughts I remembered before I fell into a deep coma which lasted for about two weeks.
It was a difficult operation,a very delicate one, and the doctors told,took a long time doing it.It was a quadruple cardiac-bypass operation which lasted for several hours.
They were all,Marianita,Emma ,Dennis,Junior and Yedda and my daughters living in the US,Vilma,Dr.Marian Mendoza-Racho,the dentist Narissa,and their respective spouses.They were all there when I was brought into the operating room.They were all there when I was wheeled out of the operating room.Marianita who was not allowed to accompany me in the ICU, told me that I was brought to the ICU still unconscious.Then about 30minutes after that,I developed a high grade fever stuporous of pneumonia Then my left lung collapsed.It was after this that i fell into a coma.The world and the people around stopped to matter to me anymore.I had lost them and they had lost me.And for about two weeks it was like that.
My children were already worried and crying seeing me comatose in the ICU.Then Vilma remembered that I gave her an image of the Blessed Virgin Mother of Poon Bato,the image given to me by Mrs.Rosellyn Enciso-Magsaysay in the early '80s .She had kept the image in her home in Fremont.The back of the image had already cracked ,maybe because of the American weather that the tropical wood,of which the image was carved,could not withstand.
Vilma sought permission from the ICU head if she could bring the image in the ICU.Most Americans are not Roman Catholic and do not give religious images spiritual significance,but Vilma's request was granted .Hospital authorities,possibly,did not see anything wrong if the image were in my room.Anyway,it must have been faith in the image's miraculous reputation that prodded Vilma to do what she did.She painstakingly placed the image on a small table covered with flowing white cloth and had it face me.She placed the table near my bed.
Now this part of the story was told to us by the Australian nurse who was assigned at the ICU on a night shift.None of my immediate family members ,unfortunately was able to witness the "miracle"since it happened when they were away.The Stanford University Medical Center had very strict rules.Family members were allowed to visit from 10am to 6pm but only two at a time and only for 10minutes.But Marianita,being my wife,was given a special privilege.She was allowed to stay until 10pm.
About two weeks after I fell into a deep coma at the ICU at the Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto,something most strange happened.I was told.On that particular night when the "strange thing" happened,Marianita still remembers that she stayed at the ICU until 10pm.When she left I was still comatose and my fever was still very high.But an old woman,who was also a patient at the ICU but on a recovery stage already,said to her when she was about to leave the ward:"I will pray for your husband's fast recovery."
Then it happened.Towards midnight ,when only the Australian nurse on duty was moving around in the ward,the crown of the miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin Mother suddenly glowed,bathing the image and the immediate surrounding with soft white light.The soft light becomes bright rays streaming towards me,wrapped the full stretch of my comatose body,then lingered for a while on my head in full brightness..The Australian nurse said she was stunned and awed by what she saw.Then as the streaming light withdrew,I suddenly woke up from a deep coma.I opened my eyes and asked the startled Australian nurse for a ball pen and a bond paper so that I could write my name.That was the thought that came to my mind at that point in time: Iwanted to write my name on a piece of paper.
The following morning,Sunday, Marianita and my children arrived late at the hospital because they attended the 10am church services before proceeding to the medical center.The first two persons allowed to enter the ICU were my daughter,Marian Mendoza-Racho,a psychiatrist practicing in New York,and Marianita.When they saw my bed empty,they did not know what to do.They looked at each other and started to cry .They cried like lost orphans.They thought something had happened to me during the night and I had been brought by the hospital personnel somewhere they did not like to think about.
Actually I was brought out by the Filipino nurse on duty to the beautiful garden at the back of the hospital where the morning breeze and the early sun encouraged me to take a deep breath.,For when she came to the ICU that Sunday morning,she was most surprised when she saw me moving ,flailing my arms and opening my mouth to speak.She was used to seeing me still and comatose on my bed.But today I motioned to her to help me for I wanted to rise ,see the world again ,breathe fresh air,see the sun.She understood me for she put me in a wheelchair and wheeled me to the hospital garden outside.
Outside ,I took a deep breath,taking in all the air and the fragrance and the sounds brought to the world by the new day.It was only then that I was sure I was alive.The thin wind,the soft light touching my numb physique ,the pebbles on the hard earth,the trembling leaves of the silent plants,all the textures and colors of that unforgettable morning after what seemed to be a very long night were a reaffirmation of that strong feeling surging within me--that I was alive.
When the Australian nurse came around ,she told Marianita,my children and the Filipino nurse who was her reliever about the "miracle" she had witnessed the night before.I called it a "miracle" for how else would I call it?I could not find any explanation for it.And of all people ,it was witnessed by a non-believer.
Soon after that, I was transferred from the ICU to a regular Medical ward for my condition had greatly improved.The miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin Mother of Poon Bato stayed with me in my new ward.It was still on a sall table near my bed.It was within reach.I was within its direct gaze.
In the days that followed,the Australian nurse would lead a small group of her friends to visit me.They touched the image of Poon Bato,looked closely at its features,and sometimes made innocent remarks that told me that they were all non-believers.Then the Australian nurse would narrate the the "miracle" she had witnessed that night at the ICU where I was confined.
I STAYED at the Stanford Medical Center for about a month.A pacemaker was implanted in me on December 19,1995.What my daughters Vilma and Marian did to me during those difficult days before and after my second heart surgery was a perfect example of a beautiful father-daughters relationship.They did everything to make my stay in San Francisco pleasant and comfortable.I was proud of my daughters .They made me feel like a man who,after years of trying ,had finally succeeded to become a proud father by raising daughters who proved themselves worthy of his high praises and a source of his pride.With them around,my pain became less of a burden....
...I left San Francisco for Manila with Marianita and Dennis soon after that.It was a long journey back home and I was still weak but all the time I felt the spirit of the fresh beginning of another year ,1996,propping me up.On February 11,1996,I arrived in Manila .I felt I was a new man with a new heart.
I continued my recuperation in Manila under the loving care of my family and the expertise of other cardiac specialists.
When i started writing this memoir ,I thought it would not be complete without this chapter on the miracle of the Blessed Virgin Mother of Poon Bato that happened to me.This Account is my humble tribute to her.
Source: MENDOZA, Democrito T.,SHAPES OF MEMORY:Memoir of a Freedon Fighter
and Trade Unionist.TUCP & OPASCOR.Cebu City,Philippines.2007