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Nestor Sulpico in a Filipino Reporter file photo.

 

An Ilonggo, who worked as a New York cab driver and was recognized in 2004 for returning $70,000 worth of black pearls left in his taxi, was recognized as one of New York’s heroes of the decade.

Nestor Ortiz Sulpico joined US Airways pilot Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Times Square T-shirt vendor and terrorist stopper Duane Jackson as among the 10 New York heroes at the beginning of the 21st century.

Sulpico, dubbed “New York’s most honest taxi driver,” died of stomach cancer at age 51 at his home in Jaro, Iloilo, leaving behind a priceless legacy to his daughter and fellow Filipinos and cabbies when he returned the rare black pearls that a passenger, a hedge-fund manager, left in the taxi he was driving in July 2004.

The pearls have a retail value of $200,000.

 

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Nestor Sulpico displays the rare black pearls that were among the $70,000 stash of jewels he found in a backpack in the backseat of his cab.

 

In its latest article that came out on Dec. 19, the Daily News described Sulpico as “a real diamond in the rough.”

“In just his second week on the job, New York’s most honest cabbie found $70,000 in rare South Pacific black pearls in his backseat — and made a 43-mile trip to Connecticut, with the meter off, to get them to the rightful owner.”

“Thank God I did the right thing,” Sulpico told the Filipino Reporter after his heroism was first featured in the Daily News.

“It’s really overwhelming that the news reverberated all over the world and brought so much honor to me and my family.”

“I’m really proud of what I did,” said Sulpico, who shared his 15 minutes of fame with his then 86-year-old mother Elena, who also became an instant star in Iloilo.

Sulpico admitted that at first, he imagined how the precious jewels could change his life.

“I thought of the days when I was just roaming New York, shivering in the snow, desperately looking for a job,” he shared.

But returning the pearls was one of the easiest decisions he ever made in his life.

“I believe that honesty is the most important virtue which serves as a foundation of all other virtues,” he said.

The grateful passenger had offered the honest cabbie a $500 reward, which Sulpico was reluctant to accept, and raised at least $5,000 for an educational fund to help Sulpico finish nursing studies.

The Beth Israel School of Nursing extended Sulpico a nursing scholarship which he accepted.

At the time of his death, he had two subjects left and he had wanted to be a nurse so that he could bring his daughter Angel, now 22, with him to the U.S.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also gave him an “integrity award” and a symbolic key to the city.

Sulpico returned to a hero’s welcome in Iloilo.

The Senate passed a resolution commending his honesty and he received a citation and P100,000 in cash from President Macapagal-Arroyo.

Elena said his son did not have any regrets.

“He lived and died with the virtues that I taught them since they were children,” said Elena Sulpico, now 88.

“Nothing changed him even after he became famous.”

The 10 honored in the “Decade of Heroes” list are:

• 2000—Bronx Court Officer Joe Zeisler, who saved an 18-month-old girl from sure death by donating pary of his liver to the girl;

• 2001—NYPD Detective James Zadroga, who spent 470 hours sifting through the toxic rubble of Ground Zero, and died five years later for his efforts;

• 2002—A golden retriever named Bear, who found the most bodies in the 9/11 rubble. The pooch was killed by toxins from the toppled towers;

• 2003—Choreographer Jeff Amsden, who helped a conga line of straphangers escape from a dank Eighth Avenue tunnel during the citywide blackout;

• 2004—Nestor Sulpico;

• 2005—“Super Dad” Alberto Colon, who jumped from his SUV to save a bleeding Bronx girl after she was shot by a stray bullet and rushed her to a hospital;

• 2006—Yaneisha (Toughie) Harrison, an 18-year-old Brooklynite who rescued five younger cousins — one an infant — from an early morning fire at their East Flatbush home;

• 2007—“Subway Superman” Wesley Autrey, who dived down on the No. 1 tracks to rescue a convulsing man, whom he held flat as a train roared past just inches from their heads;

• 2008—NYPD cops John Francis and Robert Oles and Detective John Madden, who saved the life of a 13-month-old baby near the gates of City Hall by giving the baby oxygen and applying CPR;

• 2009—Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed US Airways Flight 1549 safely in the Hudson River, saving all 155 people aboard; and

• 2010—T-shirt vendor Duane Jackson alerted cops to a terrorist’s car bomb on Times Square. He got a personal call from President Barack Obama for his heroic act.