As little kids with vividly magical minds, most of us regarded angels as imaginary friends. But growing up, we encounter scenarios that make us believe angels aren’t the winged creatures we used to imagine, rather, they disguise as strangers dispatched in our lives just right on cue – during crucial moments of pain, problems, and of life and death situations.
Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo opened the pilot episode of Paano Kita Mapasasalamatan with a heart-rending spiel giving props to Filipino resilience and unbreakable camaraderie. Even the showbiz royalty herself had many times been saved by an ‘angel’ who helped turn the tides of her life. And while we are certain these ‘angels’ are deeply appreciated, there are times when a simple ‘thank you’ seems not enough.
For this episode, Kapamilya actress and COVID-19 survivor Iza Calzado bared the still unknown pieces of her story – from fragments of her younger years to the recent medical battle she went through. Iza wears a warrior’s spirit, sharpened by a rough childhood. Her parents – Mary Ann and Lito – were on the verge of separation by the time she was born and, growing up, she witnessed her mom suffering from mental health isssues. Moreover, she was aware of her father’s philandering. But despite the broken home, Iza knew her parents continued to care for each other and her relationship with her Dad remained solid.
Then-innocent Iza was swamped with negative feelings in her shaky environment. She grew up in a world full of questions. With no one to run to, she found temporary comfort from overindulgence in food, leading in her obesity. The bullying and deteriorating amount of self-love made her teenage years close to a nightmare.
Iza’s life then was an endless cycle of jumping from one hurdle to another. After years of fighting with the illness, her mom died when she was 19, the first death in their family. “Siya ang unang umiwan sa amin sa pamilya. Titigil ang mundo mo, eh.” At that season of loss, Iza found herself at a crossroad and she bravely took the path the led her to Christ.
Sharing the same feelings of grief also weaved Iza and her Daddy’s Lito’s relationship tighter. They became each other’s constant ‘support system.’ Until, it was Daddy Lito’s time to go. That same year, 2011, Iza met her now-husband Ben Wintle. “Nasa ospital ang Daddy ko nang makilala ko si Ben. Noong final hours niya nagpapaalaman na kami, dumating si Ben sa ospital. Mga 10 minutes after ng pagdating ni Ben, pumanaw ang Daddy ko. Parang hinintay niya si Ben. Parang ‘I can rest now because I know my daughter is in good hands.’ And he was right.”
Iza and Ben tied the knot in a beautiful beach wedding ceremony in December 2018. In Iza’s recent fight against COVID-19, it was in Ben’s love where she found strength and inspiration. And apart from Ben, there was one person Iza was scared for – her 16-year-old brother, Sean. “Si Sean talaga ‘yung isa sa mga inisip kong hindi ko pwedeng maiwan bukod sa asawa ko. At siyempre ang kuya ko.”
Looking back on those scary hours, Iza realized she was blessed with angels and one of them is her loyal house helper, Donna Garcia, who stayed by her side despite the risks. Donna was asked by her own family to come home but she refused, knowing how much Iza needed her assistance. Donna didn’t make room for fear. Instead, she kept herself covered in prayers and vigilance.
Iza realized how that simple decision to stay was already a big sacrifice on Donna’s part. “Donna, paano ba kita mapapasalamatan? Alam kong hindi sapat ang mga salita at yakap at kung anuman na pwede kong ibigay sa’yo. Sa amin mo ibinigay ang pagmamahal mo at taos-puso akong nagpapasalamat,” says a small portion of Iza’s heartfelt message to Donna.
Iza handed Donna the house key – a symbol of their friendship that now goes beyond the employee-employer relationship. “Bahay natin ito dahil anuman ang mangyari sa buhay, saan man tayo dalhin nito, tandaan mo na may susi ka sa buhay namin. Parte ka ng bahay na ito dahil ‘yan sa pagmamahal at pagmamalasakit na binigay mo sa amin. Maraming maraming salamat.”
Iza has found an angel in the person of Donna, who also has a beautiful story to tell. According to Donna, she was forced to leave her studies for a full-time job in order to help her mom and siblings. She worked as a receptionist at an airport and there, she met her husband. Their union sparked Donna’s dream of raising a happy family, a vivid desire that soon began to blur when her husband turned into a troubled selfish man. Her husband wasn’t even by her side when she was giving birth and tending to their newborn. Donna tried her best to still save the failing marriage. However, after giving birth to her second child, she realized that their relationship has been severely damaged. Donna ran to her sister’s house for refuge, where she felt estranged than welcomed.
In the midst of her brokenness, all Donna had were her kids and her faith, and they were enough to keep her hopeful. A couple – Lin and Rod Tolentino – introduced her to a church group. Little did she knew, the husband and wife are the God-sent angels who would help her get back up after a series of trials that almost knocked her down.
Mr. and Mrs. Tolentino settled Donna’s hospital bill when she met an accident while working as a street sweeper, then helped her look for a new job. To express her gratitude, Donna handed the couple a rosary. which symbolizes the faith that bind them altogether. The couple thanked Donna, in return, for paying it forward and for helping spread love and kindness.
Rod and Lin’s faith was built and strengthened by trials, either. Theirs is a story of long years of childlessness. But despite what the medical reports said, the couple continued to offer the Lord with passionate prayers. Lin even wrote a letter to Blessed Lucia in 1993 and the response came in a year later. After another year, Rod and Lin’s tenacity and unwavering faith paid off.
Rod’s profession required him long hours away from home, destructing his relationship with his kids. The growing distance between them made him realize the value of parenthood and time spent with family. He penned down a resignation letter and started a business instead. But putting up their own company wasn’t a walk in the park. If not for their employee Lando Lentejas, their venture wouldn’t be a huge success.
Lando started with the Tolentinos as a messenger while still pursuing his studies. Lando looked at his boss as a father figure, saying Rod would even pay for his schooling that time.
To express their appreciation of Lando’s contribution in their lives and the company, Rod and Lin awarded him with a lamp, for his loyalty serves as their light at work.
Lando is the breadwinner in a brood of six. He was in third grade when his father left them for another woman, coating his heart with grudges. Growing up, Lando would witness how his mother would deny herself of her own needs just to be able to feed six mouths.
Lando carried both feelings of resentment and longing in his heart. In sixth grade, he reunited with his father for his graduation. And while he was deeply upset, Lando turned the anger into a driving force. He hustled as a working student, first as a janitor, then a construction worker.
Eventually, Lando’s father got ill and returned home, stirring old feelings of bitterness and pain. Yet, keeping his mother’s teachings in mind and through Rod and Lin’s influence, Lando found the strength to forgive his father. He knows the way he honors his dad, despite the mistakes, will eventually bounce back once he become a family man himself.
Through all the tests he managed to surpass, Lando’s mother served as the wind that helped him soar higher, also the voice of reason that kept him grounded. So, to thank his mother for all her selflessness, Lando gave him a shawl, symbolizing his desire to always keep her close and protected.
The love and kindness that Lando’s mom planted in his heart drove him to becoming a loyal employee in Rod and Lin’s company, leading in their success, which gave them enough resources to help Donna start anew. Paying it forward, Donna passed on the roots to her beloved employer, Iza. This beautiful cycle reminds us, if anything, that kindness creates a ripple effect.