LIPATA, Surigao City (MindaNews/20 January) — We were thirteen hours stuck in the Montenegro Shipping Lines port in San Ricardo, Southern Leyte on Sunday night with all hope of taking the 10:00pm boat gone. We were car number 154 on the list that by 9:30pm had extended to number 349. The ferry was due to load cars 105 to 118, but the numbers on the waitlist got converted to plate numbers when posted on the window of the ticketsellers. One never knew really what number they were serving if we only had to go by the list of plate numbers posted.

Typhoon Amang had headed north but still wreaked havoc in some areas. This was, I believe, one of the two Southern Leyte seaports that had opened that morning to allow pilgrims a way out of Tacloban. It was more preferable to the other one because it did not close down for the night.

We had gotten there before nine that morning to the sight of people setting up camp on the roadside and on the beachfront nearby. Private cars were jampacked bumper to bumper on both sides of the streets leading to the port entrance. The sidewalk stalls were running a brisk business feeding the crowd and seeing to their comfort.

We whiled away the time talking up fellow travellers and laying out our wet stuff to dry out in the sun. We dozed. Later, my people brought out the mat and spread it over a shaded pavement that suspiciously smelled of urine. Kenneth entertained us with sleight of hand and card tricks. He even got Fr. Gaby to practice working his digits.

Much later, we broke out a loaf of bread and a can of corned beef. We played cards till it was time for dinner. Then we headed down to the beach to gaze at stars and try to start a bonfire that would drive away the mosquitoes.

Wandering back to the terminal, we were greeted by a commotion. An angry crowd was accosting a young lady. They blocked her way and yelled at her. Cameras were coming out to take her picture. It turned out that the lady was with the seven cars that had whizzed by everyone to claim the scarce resource of a spot on the latest ferry to Lipata. They had jumped over those that were in line to be boarded. The lady had come out to pay the passage for the cars and her companions.

It was unclear who were on board. First she said they were GKK leaders from the Diocese of Tagum. Later, she said they were priests. Harassed no end, she escaped to the terminal and ran back to the boat.

I caught the grumbling of an irate matron from Kidapawan. She claimed that she saw the lady coming into the ticketing the office and palming money into the hand of a shipping personnel. The matron bristled with righteous indignation. This, to her, explained why the seven cars were allowed to be loaded.

A disgruntled passenger said, “So what if they are priests? Are priests so special?”

To break the forming of a general contagion that would give all priests a bad name among this crowd, I joked, “Oh, our priest is special. With egg.” I pointed to ADDU Academic Vice President Fr. Gabriel Jose T. Gonzalez, SJ who was travelling with us.

Or rather, we were travelling with him. It was the AVP’s van that got us here. We were waiting our turn, just like another priest who was from Cagayan de Oro.

Fr. Gab broke off from exchanging contact details with the guys who had pictures of the plate numbers. He did not appreciate the Ilongo joke that alluded to batchoy. Obviously, he preferred halo-halo instead. Eyebrow raised, he said, “Special, yes. With ice cream.”

He said he would check the ownership of the cars with the Diocese of Tagum.

To restore order, the operations marshal came up to us and announced that he was just acting on the instructions of the Montenegro OIC. He said the seven cars had booked from Lipata on the authority of one Boyet Villegas, OIC. We were to talk to him if we had complaints. Someone gave me Villegas’ number. I dialed but he just let it ring. I texted him an inquiry on whether he had indeed authorized these seven cars to get ahead of me.

Oh, okay, I did text to say that if he did he ought to be rebuked. Shame on him for flaunting preferential treatment and upsetting order among those waiting to be served. It was no way to run a public utility facility. It was conduct detrimental to the common good.

Jonel Alaybar is 26 years old. Despite the official vest he wears as operations marshal for the Montenegro Shipping Line, he probably does not own a car, unlike these older people making up the hostile crowd. He was, he said, only doing his job.

But he was obviously shaken by the collective display of anger.

Soon enough, they changed how they were calling out the numbers. Things proceeded smoothly, until someone spotted that another plate number was actually claiming the slot for a waitlisted number that may have been abandoned. The ensuing uproar had the management making another change – they started calling out both the waitlisted number and plate number. Now rendered vigilant, some passengers took the edge off their frustration by checking the plates of the cars about to be cleared to enter the loading dock. Soon they found one that did not check out.

A diminutive nun from the Missionary Sisters of Mary squarely planted herself directly in front of the offending pickup truck, daring it to run her over. She was soon joined by other warm bodies who stood unyielding beside her, effectively cutting off any room for the vehicle to proceed.

The pickup retreated.

The thing about someone’s display of resolute courage to do the right thing is that it calls out to the basic sense of decency that lies in the heart of every civilized person. One cannot do otherwise but to stand up and be counted, too.

This minor victory encouraged others to volunteer their efforts at putting order to the process. To some extent, the passengers took over port operations and police functions to demonstrate how these should be done. We spotted an ADDU outreach staff calling out the numbers while more people joined the brave nun on the entrance, checking plates and reprimanding anyone daring enough to try and skip over those who had been waiting for hours. Thanks to this nun’s efforts, our van was finally able to board at 3:30am.

Her name, she told me, is Sr. Nina.

That means little girl.

Oh, but she was the bravest “little girl” I ever did see. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan chairs the Department of Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University. You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says.)