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Remembering Merly

19 January 2021

By Daisy CL Mandap  

Merly spent more than half of her life in Hong Kong, a city she loved

She may not have won any award, or received public plaudits for her many acts of generosity and kindness toward people she hardly knew, but Merly T. Bunda’s passing early on Monday, Jan 18, was met with grief by many in the Filipino community in Hong Kong.

Merly, who was single, succumbed to late-stage cancer of the uterus at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital, where she was confined after being diagnosed with the terminal ailment only five months earlier. She spent her 54th birthday there last Dec. 17.

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Within that short period of time, the cancer relentlessly ravaged her body, but she valiantly fought on, never once giving in to suggestions that she should perhaps just go home and spend the rest of her days there.

As a trained midwife, she knew the dangers she faced each time she was made to undergo medical procedures, but she never wavered. She firmly acceded to everything that her doctors suggested, even to the final, dangerous one that her greatly weakened body was not able to withstand.

Merly was visited by friends when she marked her 54th birthday in hospital

People who knew Merly would know that she was being true to form that way. The pretty, delicate-looking Ilongga was known for being gregarious and soft-hearted, but she was also feisty and hard-nosed.

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For the most part of her 30 years of stay in Hong Kong, she made it her business to know what was going on in the community. But it was never because she was prone to gossip; she did it because she was genuinely interested in people, and would offer help whenever she could, even if it meant sharing a big chunk of her hard-earned salary.

Merly (in white) with her SUN family

At The SUN, where she was a regular contributor for the past decade or so, she was the one we all would ask if there was any story or a social media post we wanted to get more information about. She never failed to deliver.


But fellow contributor Marites Palma remembers Merly more for her kind heart.

Nag ho hospital visit po siya nun. Marami siyang sinasamahan na mga may problema, lalo na yung mga may nakasanlang passport, mga OS (overstayers) dito. Minsan nauubos ang pera niya sa pagbibigay tulong sa mga na teterminate na tinutulungan niya,” says Marites.

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(She used to do hospital visits, she helped many migrants who had problems, especially those who had pawned their passports to get loans, as well as those who had overstayed their visa. Sometimes she’d use up her money giving help to those whose contracts had been terminated).

Merly with members of 'From a Distance,' a self-help group for OFWs she founded

This was the same sentiment shared by her fellow Ilongga, Erma Geolamin, who introduced Merly to The SUN. Erma, who has moved back to Iloilo to retire, remembers fondly the many times she and Merly would team up, not just to gather stories about troubled migrants, but also to focus on issues that had long plagued the community, like gambling.


Erma recalls Merly giving her tips about how much money was changing hands among migrants who played cards the whole day at a known Ilonggo haunt in Central so she could write about it. When Erma became a target of the gamblers’ ire, Merly immediately told her to stay away while she secretly did the digging up for her.

It was also Erma who Merly teamed up with in extending help to an overstaying migrant worker who became so popular from their stories that she was soon hailed as the “honest OFW” who returned cash she found in the trash, worth the equivalent of Php1million.


The truth about her finding only worthless crossed cheques came to light after Merly doggedly worked with The SUN in unraveling the stupendous claim.

It was not the only time Merly was betrayed by a fellow worker she had helped selflessly, but true to her good nature, she rarely, if ever, held a grudge against anyone, much less spoken ill of others.


As a worker, Merly was well loved by her employers and their families. She worked 15 years for one family, and more than 10 for another. The last one she was particularly attached to, especially to the two children she helped raise from when they were babies.

One of Merly's cherished photos was this one where she's seen reporting for Bombo Radyo

Merly first got the writing bug after being asked to become Hong Kong correspondent for Bombo Radyo in the Philippines at the time of the SARS outbreak here in 2003.

Her booming voice had become so recognizable to people in her Iloilo hometown that many often got surprised on seeing how frail she looked in person.

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“When they meet me in the market, they say ‘how does such a small person have such a big voice,” said Merly in an interview.

That dedicated following prodded Merly to widen her circle that in no time, there was hardly any event or story that escaped her reach. Her Facebook account which she used to report incidents or post cryptic comments, was widely followed, even if she wrote mostly in Ilonggo.

Her passing leaves a big void in the community, for she was kind and generous, as she was exuberant. There are not a lot of people like her.

*Merly’s remains will be flown home to Dingle, Iloilo, in accordance with her family’s wishes. Details of the funeral services will be announced later. 




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