By Dr. Herman M. Lagon
IN A WORLD, often filled with deception and toxicity, it is heartwarming to hear stories of genuine honesty that remind us of the goodness that still exists in people. Such is the case with Ms. Jonalyn Gonzaga, an unassuming cashier at SM Valeria-Delgado in Iloilo City, whose act of kindness is an inspiring example for all of us.
Just this late Friday morning of July 29, I bought a polo shirt in haste at SM Valeria-Delgado, Iloilo City, to catch up with our university’s 1 p.m. Commencement Exercises in Barotac Nuevo, which is 35 kilometers or a 50-minute ride away. Amid all the chaos, stress, and probably due to old age, I inadvertently left my small black purse-like wallet at the mini-ledge of Counter 1 near the mall’s ground floor male apparel section. A big part of my life then is in my wallet: credit and debit cards, professional IDs, receipts for reimbursement, calling cards of crucial contact persons, and fam photos.
Probably with some divine intervention, I never thought my wallet was lost yet while attending the graduation rites in Tamasak Stadium. I was so oblivious enough that I was able to answer some emails and messages, do some incidental chores, take photos, mingle with colleagues, and even write and post a news article about the grand event for the university.
I just learned that I lost the wallet when I returned to the city at 5:20 p.m., obliviously alighting the Ceres bus but disturbingly taking the Tagbak modern bus, which happens to pass by the Atrium area, just a walk away from SM. While riding the minibus, I scoured over my bag repeatedly to no avail.
I then worried about the worst-case scenarios, like a pessimist on steroids. My cards may be used for unauthorized transactions and fraudulent charges made by someone who found or stole them, leading to financial losses. Additionally, if my cards fall into the wrong hands, my personal and financial information could be compromised, putting me at risk of identity theft and further financial harm. I am already planning that if my “suntok-sa-buwan” search will be in vain (which I thought was highly likely, but with a glimmer of hope based on past experience) later, I will immediately report the loss of my cards to the respective banks and office to mitigate these risks. I had two active bank cards in my wallet that can easily be swiped or used for wanton online transactions. I had four government IDs in it, also. Three of these, if I lose, require me to process an affidavit of loss before I process it in the PRC. This still does not include the two official IDs I have from two universities and the photos and calling cards with sentimental value to me. Thinking about all these makes the cash inside my wallet insignificant.
With my heart palpitating as if I needed Catapres, I then tried to trace my morning path from the LandBank ATM area in Iznart to the GCash register area in Shopwise Amigo and the Korean gadget store in Delgado. When all possibilities are lost, I thought I might have left it in the Rest Room of SM. It was not there too. Only then that I have to take the last option on my list, the possibility that I left my wallet when I purchased my black polo shirt.
So, as I walked through the counter, I first saw the beaming smile of the cashier, Ma’am Jonalyn Gonzaga. Before saying anything, she happily informed me that she had already endorsed my wallet to the Customer Service (CS) department on the mall’s second floor. She told me that she secured my wallet right after seeing it on the small ledge in front of the cash register. She said she told one customer that the wallet must have been mine and had to endorse it to the CS. She was not able to tell me how the other customer reacted to it, but I wish to presume that the kindhearted Ms. Jonalyn handled it well with her Ilongga grace and trustworthy aura.
So, there, I went to the CS on the second floor of the mall. After identifying confirmation with the guards and the CRO head for a considerable while, I got my cute but precious wallet—the proverbial repository of a significant fraction of what I own and owe—intact.
Unfortunately, I could not catch up with Ms. Jonalyn anymore when I went back to her cashier’s counter; she probably had already timed out or had her needed break for a backbreaking job. I thought I had to tell her how thankful I was for her quick response and concern for a stranger customer like me. She may have had no idea what a significant relief she was to me, not just literally (I can only imagine if the worst-case scenarios I had thought of happened) but also digitally and psychologically. Losing my card may mean me spending days to put all things back together, security-wise.
This good deed of Ms. Jonalyn is biblical to me. For me, what she did, no matter how simple or matter-of-fact it was for her, was the living out and the integration of the parables of the Good Samaritan in Luke, the Widow’s Offering in Mark, the Feeding of the Five Thousand in Matthew, and the Prodigal Son in Luke. She is kind, trustworthy, and honesty incarnate.
Before, my memory of SM Valeria-Delgado, the oldest SM store in the Philippines outside Metro Manila, was just about my childhood frivolities with my parents. Now, it reminds me that there still exist people that you can still trust and are genuinely honest. If there is one best way that I can pay the goodness back to Ms. Johanlyn, it is the hope for me to restlessly share her story of honesty with the rest of the world.
This simple act of honesty may have seemed like a small gesture to the thoughtful Ms. Jonalyn, but to me, it meant the world. It saved me from potential financial and security troubles, sparing me days of processing, transactions, worry, and self-pity. For me, Ms. Jonalyn’s actions resonated on a profound level, reflecting the values of kindness, trustworthiness, and sincere concern for others. Her story serves as a testament to the power of one person’s actions to make a positive impact on the lives of others.
I invite everyone to take a moment to appreciate the significance of Ms. Jonalyn Gonzaga’s actions. Let us cherish the edifying Ms. Jonalyns in society, for they are the ones who make the world a better place, one honest and kind act at a time. In a world that often needs more honesty and integrity, Ms. Jonalys stands as a symbol of the positive change we can all inspire and expect in our communities. Let us be ignited by their example and strive to pay it forward, spreading stories of kindness and honesty to inspire others to do the same.
A heartfelt shoutout to Iloilo Airport Security Screening Officer Alma Dalen! Your inspiring example crossed my mind during the wallet “search.” Your goodness ignited hope, and I persevered, believing I’d find my wallet despite all odds.
Dr. Herman Lagon fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. He is a professor of ISUFST, a student of USLS, a retiree of Ateneo, and an alumnus of UP, UI, and WVSU.