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Alba Iulia
Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Born in a manger: Rodrigo Bagon

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Dina Mananquil-Delfino
Dina was former editor-in-chief of The Philippine Times and has been its columnist for over 20 years. She has written two books, "Colours of Life" and "Under His Wings". Dina has been in the helping field for 40 years in the various roles she has fulfilled – teacher, employee in different organisations, volunteer, pastoral care worker. She is a member of Australian Counsellors of Australia (ACA) and Counsellors Victoria (CV). DINA IS A QUALIFIED COUNSELOR AND PASTORAL CARE WORKER. She can be contacted on 0430 214 917. Email evamarie09@bigpond.com for comments or feedback on this story).

 “You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.” Frank McCourt

Rod was born in Eastern Samar, Philippines in the 1950s as the fourth child of seven children during a typhoon. As their house was made of nipa (coconut fibres), it was totally destroyed and he was put into an empty milk box using every available sheet the family could find. There was no electricity and only a gas lamp illuminated the dark house and protected the tiny babe. 

Poverty was a substantial reason for Rod to pursue and persevere with his dreams. His young life was dominated by hard work – catching fish with his dad and if there was plenty, some would be sold at the village market. His mom wove hats (sombreros) and would go ask townsfolk to donate empty flour bags so she could sew them into clothes for the children. They lived on sweet potatoes, bananas, corn and rice. 

In his late teens, he left his village and lived in Tacloban, Leyte with his aunt, selling blocks of ice. He would pick them up from the nearby ice plant very early in the morning and deliver them to street vendors. He also sold steamed buns (siopao) in the afternoon. He was determined to have an education for he believed this would be his passport to freedom and success. When he finished his elementary education, he trusted that he was on his way to his dream.

While working as a delivery boy of ice blocks, an elderly gentleman became a friend and considered him his adopted son. His daughter was travelling back to Manila and she asked her dad if she could take Rod along with her. In Manila, he enrolled at the Arellano University in Pasay City for high school. 

Then he met another wonderful woman, who supported his dream of working in an office in Makati as their messenger/errand boy. Just working along Ayala Avenue was an answered prayer. He later asked his manager to allow him to work during the day and study at night. He enrolled at Manuel L Quezon University in Quiapo, Manila and graduated with a degree in Bachelor of Science, majoring in Business Administration.

He was promoted to Assistant Manager in a shipping department. He loved this job so much that even now he recalls the fond memories of it. Working for the shipping industry opened his eyes to different parts of the country – Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao became his “kingdoms”.

Dealing with different nationalities became his “extra education”. He had a distinct life plan – finishing school at 20, marrying at 30 and perhaps having children and owning a nice house.

He met his wife Nimfa and they got married on 29 January 1984 in Don Bosco, Makati. By December, they had a son, who unfortunately died. His life became so empty and sad.

He met an old woman who never knew of his life story, but left him with a special message that his son was now with the Lord in heaven and looking after them as one of God’s angels. This lifted him up and they tried again. But the next child was an ectopic pregnancy and another miscarriage followed. 

Desperate, they sought the intercession of the Blessed Mother and visited every place that was special to Mary – Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan, Our Lady of Good Voyage in Antipolo, Our Lady of Immaculate Conception at the Basilica Manor (Manila Cathedral, Intramuros).

At the same time, their application to migrate overseas was underway, preferring the USA instead of Australia. But the country was spun into turmoil in 1986, that they took their sponsorship to Australia while waiting for their US application. They seized it as a sign that the Lord wanted them in Australia, with their visa for this country being approved first. 

Before flying out, they visited Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Guiuan and the shrine of San Antonio de Padua, Sulangan. They returned to Manila after a week, and a month after arriving in Melbourne, his wife was pregnant. Leo Angelo was born on 10 June 1989 at the Jesse McPherson, Monash Hospital, Clayton.

Now at 31 years old, Leo is married to Michelle La Rosa and they are expecting their first child in July. Leo Angelo has been raised as a Catholic and served as a faithful altar server at St Paul Apostle Church, Endeavour Hills, their home parish.

As he looks back and reminisces about his trials and tribulations, Rod recalls with good humour and humility the many blessings the Lord poured out on them – the gift of hospitality, friendliness, entertainment, the ability to make people laugh and relax. 

His love for dancing and singing, could turn him into a disco king and a very valuable folk dancer. He could belt out songs that are worthy of competitive and light-hearted performances, that he used so well, serving in nursing homes. 

Collecting stamps, world currency, royal memorabilia, antiques and plates are hobbies that make him busy. Travelling has been a purposeful aim, having visited nearly 50 countries. Gardening is his favourite therapy – calling his garden his sacred space, his sanctuary. He has three statues of the Blessed Mother in and around his garden.

Rod was once a candidate for Councillor for the City of Casey, two-time president of the Family and Friends Social Club, was once a member of the church parish council, a reader and a commentator and used to run a Filipino stall on fundraising events at Saint Paul Apostle, a volunteer and member of the Young Generation Seniors Club, a follower of the Australian Labor Party, a committed helper of AFCS. He is concurrently a member of FILO Harmony Choir singing regularly at Saint Paul Apostle Parish and St Agatha’s, Cranbourne. 

It has not all been a sweet ride for Rod. He nearly fell to the ground as a snake coiled itself with its deadly eyes staring at him at the tree he was climbing; was held up at gunpoint on the way to dinner in a taxi with a foreign visitor, the hold-upper taking all of his two weeks’ pay and the engagement ring (still being paid by instalment) meant for his fiancée (now his wife);  he thought he would die after being bitten on his chest by a large jellyfish; had a massive verbal fight with an embassy official in Makati who suspected him of being a member of a drug syndicate, which could have risked their migration to Australia.

Rodrigo Bagon with a dog named Tarzan
Rodrigo Bagon with a dog named Tarzan
Rod Bagon on his Facebook post: "This one I'm holding has a story to tell. This is a fruit of a tree that has thorny branches which is dominant in Moravia having warmer climate. This also thrived in other parts of Europe. These thorny branches were used by the Romans to Crown Jesus during Crucifixion. Thereby The Crown of Thorns. Unbelievably Biblical. I asked the museum person if I can at least touch it. Feeling so blessed. Amen"
When Rod Bagon visited Moravia or Czech Republic in September 2019, he posted this on Facebook: “This one I’m holding has a story to tell. This is a fruit of a tree that has thorny branches which is (sic) dominant in Moravia having (a) warmer climate. This also thrived in other parts of Europe. These thorny branches were used by the Romans to Crown Jesus during Crucifixion. Thereby The Crown of Thorns. Unbelievably Biblical. I asked the museum person if I can at least touch it. Feeling so blessed. Amen”

How could Rod be described as a person? Maybe the word is tenacious, as reflected and best expressed by Rob Mcbride: “Tenacity is our capacity to continue working on a job or task until we achieve the result we desire. Impediment and inconvenience determine our character and define our destiny. Our reaction to adversity can create power or enhance vulnerability. The best way to confront a problem tenaciously is to perceive difficulties as challenges, not obstacles.” 

Rod would definitely say AMEN to this!

(For comments or feedback, email evamarie09@bigpond.com)

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