A young Filipino is cycling more than 600 km from Manila to the south-eastern province of Sorsogon to be with his ailing elder brother suffering from a debilitating disease.
Jessie Hallig, is in his early 20s, hails from a poor rural family. He embarked on a journey of a lifetime from Pasig, a Manila suburb, on Wednesday after his elder brother Rhamil fell severely ill.
Both Jessie and his elder brother Rhamil went to Manila to find a job after high school.
But the latter was taken back to his hometown in Magallanes, Sorsogon, to be cared for by family members as they could not afford to keep him in the hospital.
Hallig's feat on the pedal caught the imagination of netizens, and kicked up an emotional storm on social media as he reached Lucena City, some 150km from Manila.
From there, Hallig's journey had been tracked by netizens and the local media, making him an unlikely celebrity as he cycled through each town or city. Volunteer motorbike rider groups had also escorted him.
At around 1 pm Philippine time, Hallig already reached Albay province, covering a distance of about 450km.
Along the way, random well-wishers gave him a wave, offered words of encouragement, prayers, cash. Some social media users waxed poetic, while others offered tearful songs.
Jessie, the eighth in a brood of nine, is a biker, according to his sister Melanie. When interviewed by a local radio station, she was moved to tears upon learning about Jessie’s feat, knowing the dangers on the road.
Their mother died in 2009 while their father ekes out a living as a fisherman.
Melanie said Rham went home in October 2016 still healthy, but she noted her brother was on antibiotics to treat a urinary tract infection.
Jessie's journey caught traction on Facebook, where one post made by Vince T. Villar updating his friends about Hallig's trip had been shared at least 700 times.
The Halligs' heart-warming story highlights the challenges faced by the health sector in the Philippines — a net exporter of doctors and nurses — but where the poor especially in the provinces tend to be excluded from decent healthcare.
Philippine TV stations have followed Hallig’s journey. As the local media and netizens shared images of his journey, ordinary folks along the route have organized support groups. The result is a tremendous outpouring of support for the Halligs.
In an interview with the local media, Jessie said in Filipino: “I opted to take a bicycle from Manila to Sorsogon so I can save money and use it for my brother’s medication.”
Ordinary people and riders’ groups along the route cheered him up, with some are even handing out cach which they hope would go to his brother’s medication.
The distance from Manila to Sorsogon City is about 540km on the Pan-Philippine Highway, according to Google maps.
It is typically an 11-hour drive by car on winding, coconut-lined roads. A visual treat appears as one approaches the majestic Mayon Volcano in Albay, a neighbouring province of Sorsogon.
Hallig hails from Barangay Ginangra in Magallanes, Sorsogon, which is about another 60 km from Sorsogon City.
Hallig’s journey of a lifetime started on January 18. He is expected to arrive in his hometown on January 20.
Gulf News learnt from neighbours in Magallanes that Rhamil, who was working in Manila, was rushed to the hospital after he collapsed on Christmas Eve.
He stayed in a charity ward of a hospital for five days, but was taken home because the family could not afford the hospital bills.