When Neil was diagnosed with brain tumor, his first thought was to turn to the Calamansi app community for comfort.
He shared with PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) during a virtual interview via the app on January 27, 2021, what he felt then, ”Para po makalimot... Makahanap ng kausap na magpapasaya sa akin. Mawala iyong mga problema iniisip."
Having lost his job at a plastic bag factory at the start of the year because of the pandemic, he was already beset by money worries when he was told the devastating result of his medical examination.
Neil further opened up to PEP.ph, "Nagulat po ako… Gusto ko lang sana [malaman] kahit na konti, bakit ganoon?
"Matagal ko na rin kasi nararamdaman sakit ng ulo ko talaga. Sabi ko sa family ko, 'Punta sa isa pa. Baka nagkamali lang siguro.'
"Kaya, sabi ko, habang naghihintay pa ako ng araw na iyon, pumunta ako dito sa Calamansi para makalimot, sumaya."
Calamansi is a social media app where people can meet in chat rooms and talk with one another in real time. People in a group often exchange stories about their day or sing songs together.
According to Neil, who preferred to withhold his surname in the interview, he first joined the app in December 2020.
At first, he only listened in to the stories of overseas Filipino workers sharing their problems in chat rooms until he noticed how happy they all sounded after unloading their troubles.
Neil has since then become a regular user of the app, which led him to the chat room of Calamansi user "Momshie” whose given name is Rhed.
They bonded instantly because of their shared love for music, with Neil becoming one of Rhed's "anak-anakan" especially when she learned about his brain tumor.
He was fully transparent with the group about his condition, even showing them his lab results to prove he was not faking it.
Rhed right away knew that she had to do something to help Neil.
That was when the idea of putting up a "Star for a Cause" concert for Neil came about.
SONGS AND PRAYERS FOR NEIL
Rhed said, recalling what she told Neil, "Sinabi ko po talaga sa kanya na, 'Neil, sa simpleng paraan, daanan namin sa prayers at sa songs na maparamdam namin sa iyo na ma-share namin sa iyo iyong blessing na we can give a prayer or a song.
"Hindi po kami nag-out ng GCash... Basta ang hiling lang namin sa lahat ng pumapasok, 'If you can give a song, please do. If you can give a prayer, much appreciated po talaga.'
"Iyon lang po hinihiling namin. Ang dami po talaga naki-join, nakikanta mostly ng Christian songs.
“Talagang masayang-saya na si Neil sa ganyan and, siyempre, sa part din po namin, masaya din po."
The event also grabbed the attention of Mark Chua, the founder of Calamansi app.
He joined in the "Star for a Cause" concert and listened to how the entire Calamansi community sent their prayers and songs for Neil.
Mark told PEP.ph, "It was very touching because I was in there as well.
“I heard some of the messages after their set, and some of them were actually crying because they had similar situations with family members or maybe friends.
"They just wanted to spread the positive vibe to make sure [Neil] still have hope even if the doctor told him he’s only going to have a few months to live.
“Don't think it's going to be like that. You need to live life to the fullest and you need to trust in your prayers because you're not battling alone.
“You have a whole community here. We all have your back, we're all praying for you."
Rhed, deeply moved by the efforts of the community said, ”Siyempre sa field ng trabaho ko, mas na-enjoy ko siya.
“Before I'm just streaming, singing just to entertain. This time sa concert, twice na namin ginawa iyong concert, parang mas meron siyang goal na na-achieve…
"Mas meron siyang sense ngayon. Para magbigay kami ng good vibes, positivity, and lahat ng kaya namin ibigay na good thing, good emotions."
For Neil, it was an overwhelming reminder that family is not necessarily bounded by blood.
He said, "Parang isang buong pamilya kami. Masaya. Kapag may problema, usap-usap kami.
“Hindi ako lumaki sa mga magulang ko nung maliit pa ako. Gusto ko rin maranasan kahit papaano iyong pagmamahal na isang ina...
"Hindi ka nila pinapabayaan, sinusuportahan ka nila. Marami ako natutunan. Happiness. Tunay na pamilya."
Not wanting to ask for financial help, Neil has been counting on moral support and prayers from people online to sustain him during his ordeal.
And one more thing going for Neil is his optimism. He said, "Sa hirap kasi ng buhay ngayon, siyempre lahat ng tao kailangan ng pera. Gusto ko lang muna ngayon magsaya."
As of this writing, Neil is still awaiting a second opinion about his condition.