After months of rigorous search, Goodyear declared four drivers as the new crop of road heroes: Glenn Mesa, a public utility jeepney driver and Venecio Atillo, a taxi driver who both returned their respective passengers' valuables; Monico Cuadillera, a truck driver who rescued the passengers of a burning vehicle on the road; and Ronnie Balbido, a jeepney driver who volunteered his own vehicle to save his neighbors' lives.
"Every day, drivers like them make an enormous contribution to our local roads, and we are privileged to recognize them for their brave and selfless efforts. These four men accurately represent what we, as a company, continuously promote -– safety," Goodyear President and Managing Director Dave Morin said.
In addition to earning the prestigious Bayani ng Kalsada title, each winner received P30,000 cash prize, P500,000 worth of personal accident insurance, P25,000 worth of gas coupons, P20,000 worth of SM Home Appliance, a food cart with P500 worth of products, P10,000 worth of training certificate, a Revicon Forte gift pack, a plaque, as well as a Bayani ng Kalsada special jacket, cap and shirt.
The winner in the jeepney driver category, 47-year old Mesa, was nominated by one of his passengers, who left her bag containing PhP18,000 in Mesa's jeepney. Upon finding the bag, Mesa resolutely looked for its owner, tracing back his route around Project 4 and Araneta in Quezon City until he reached their terminal where he found her. While she profusely thanked Mesa for his efforts, she did not have the chance to formally introduce herself. He forgot all about the woman and the incident, until their association's president announced his nomination during their Christmas party.
Mesa admits that as a father trying to make ends meet, he had second thoughts about returning the bag full of cash. "I'm slaving away to put food on our table and to send our kids to school. That money would have made a lot of difference," he said. "But I chose to stand by a simple rule which I've followed all my life –- do not take what is not yours." Since he started driving for their association in 2001, Mesa has constantly been recognized by his colleagues for his honesty.
Sharing the same philosophy is Atillo, 55, who bagged the Bayani ng Kalsada title for the taxi category. As proof of his consistent heroic efforts, he received two nominations -- one from his taxi operator, who recognized his deed of returning a passenger's digital camera, and another from an actual passenger, who left his wallet containing money and important documents. In the latter incident, Atillo went the extra mile by searching for his passenger's house in order to return the wallet.
Atillo said being recognized as a hero is indeed humbling. "I used to think heroes only exist in history books and museums. I never imagined I would receive such a great honor. I hope my experience will inspire others to be heroes in their own way," he said.
Such is what happened to 39-year old truck driver Cuadillera, who works in Autobahn STC Corporation. While on his way back from Atimonan, Quezon driving his fuel delivery truck, he saw something burning near the roadway. As he drove closer, he realized it was a vehicle on fire. Without thinking twice, he immediately stopped, pulled off on a safe, distant place, and rushed to the vehicle to help.
After making sure all the passengers were safely out of the car, Cuadillera opened the hood of the burning vehicle and used the fire extinguisher from his truck to put out the fire. He then set up reflectorized cones around the area, instructed bystanders to push the vehicle on the side of the road, and managed the traffic situation while waiting for authorities to arrive.
Upon learning of the incident, his immediate superior nominated him to be a Bayani ng Kalsada. For Cuadillero, his daily acts of bravery form part of his responsibility as a driver. "Our profession makes us the public's eyes and ears on the road, and we strive to become heroes in our own little ways," he said.
In the case of Balbido, 41, saving lives has become part of his responsibility as both a public and private transport driver. When not in duty as a jeepney driver in the Alabang area, he uses his other vehicle to transport his sick neighbors to the hospital, serving as his community's ambulance. The most recent incident, which earned for him the Bayani ng Kalsada nomination, was in November last year, when he rushed a neighbor who had a heart attack to the hospital.
Balbido said the Bayani ng Kalsada program is a commendable and relevant undertaking. "Goodyear's project is outstanding for bringing to light the positive things that we are doing. But beyond that, it inspires us and, hopefully the others too, to become more responsible drivers. It also reminds us of our common responsibility to make our roads safe and in order," Balbido said.
The heroic acts of Mesa, Atillo, Cuadillera and Balbido bested other entries from all over the country, which were screened by a prestigious panel of judges, including officials from corporate sponsors, media partners and the government.
The Bayani ng Kalsada 2007 program was supported by the Land Transportation Office, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, Department of Transportation and Communication, as well as SM Appliance Center, Chevron Philippines, Standard Insurance, Filtrepreneur Franchise Inc, Centro Negosyo Inc., Revicon Forte, DZBB, and LS FM, Manila Bulletin, Pilipino Star Ngayon and Abante. The campaign is the local version of Goodyear's successful, long-running Highway Heroes program in North America.