OHS graduate is a hero in the Philippines

PHILIPPINES — A former Okeechobee resident and Okeechobee High school graduate was proclaimed a hero in the Philippines this week. Harley Kemp Jr. and his family moved to Okeechobee in 1960 from the Miami area. Mr. Kemp’s father opened a business called Harley’s Radio and TV Shop on Southwest Fifth Avenue near where Smitty’s Glass is now. At that time, his parents were the only business in Okeechobee that sold televisions, appliances, bedroom sets, etc.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Carren Manlunas Tompong Kemp carries her 2-year-old daughter, Hayley, up the mountain as they look for Mrs. Kemp’s brother.

Mr. Kemp and his four sisters went to school in Okeechobee and attended Okeechobee High School, where Mr. Kemp was a baseball superstar. In 2014, Mr. Kemp went on a visit to the Philippines and loved it so much, he never left. After a year in the Philippines, he met his wife, Carren, and they now have two children, Carrley, age 4, and Hayley, age 2.

On Thursday, April 30, Mr. Kemp was proclaimed a hero by the mayor in the city of Digos where the family lives.

It all began two months ago when the Philippines was placed on a very strict lockdown to combat the coronavirus. Prior to the lockdown, Mrs. Kemp’s brother, Eber Tompong, and his family made a decision to move from their home in a city called General Santos to the Kemps’ home in order to get a new start, and Mr. Tompong made the 2 1/2 hour journey with his 16-year-old son, leaving his 14-year-old and 6-year-old home for two days to finish school before they followed. Mr. Tompong’s wife, Jenalyn, is out of the country, working in Saudi Arabia.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
This is the where the hunt for Mr. Tompong began. At the top, where you see a bamboo fence, is a Philippines Army base. The trail was made by a group called the NPA (New People’s Army). They are kidnappers, who fight the Philippines Army and Filipino people, Mr. Kemp said. The NPA uses trails like this to travel from mountain to mountain without being seen.

Unfortunately, immediately after Mr. Tompong arrived, the country went on a very strict lockdown and no one is allowed out without a mask and a quarantine pass. The children were trapped across the border with no way to get to their family. No one was allowed to cross the border, but they were able to send money to the children so they could eat. Even the police were not able to help, because the lockdown is taken very seriously there. Mr. Tompong and his son went up into the mountains to find work so he could feed his family. A week later, the 6-year-old contracted dengue fever and was hospitalized for two weeks as he fought for his life. He finally recovered and went home to his sister.

A month after the lockdown began, Mr. Kemp decided enough was enough, and went to Digos City to see the mayor. He was able to speak to a commissioner who told him that somehow, they would help get those children back to their family.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Harley Kemp and his daughter Hayley look out over the mountains as they seek Hayley’s uncle.

At this point, the Kemps thought they better go find the children’s father, who was up in the mountains harvesting corn. The family, including their 2-year old and 4-year old children, set off on foot climbing mountains, in search of Mr. Tompong. It took two days climbing and searching on Mount Apo, the tallest mountain in the Philippines, before they found Mr. Tompong. After they explained that the city planned to help them, the children’s father left with them.

The following morning, they met in the mayor’s office with the chief of the Philippines’s National Police (PNP), a commissioner and a committee doctor. Mr. Kemp explained exactly what happened to cause the children to be separated from their father, and he was told by a general in the PNP that Mr. Tompong should come back the following morning, and they would take him to get his children. The family was reunited the next day, and the children are in a 14-day quarantine at the Kemps’ home and doing well.

Specail to the Lake Okeechobee News
A collage of the family.

The officials said it was very unusual for anyone to come to them the way he did, and they felt he was very brave. They sent a police escort of three motorcycles and a truck with lights flashing to his home to pick him up and take him to city hall to be honored for his part in getting the family back together.

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