A search ends, a search continues

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Wide shot of port in Aroroy, Masbate as storm clouds gather (Shot on June 18, 2013 by Doni Bolante)

Gathering storm clouds at Aroroy Port (Shot by Doni Bolante)

AROROY, MASBATE–The port area has been quiet this week. It used to welcome daily busloads of passengers plus tons of goods brought in by ten-wheelers transported through Roll On-Roll Off (RoRo) ships. Now, the few vessels there are bancas and a large cargo ship on a weeklong stop to sell cement to local hardware stores and construction work.

Recent days were sunny, with the occasional downpour. When the afternoons are dry, the pier becomes a vast park of young people. Some still in uniforms hang out with school mates. Preteen boys wearing shorts and bare feet dive into the bay or kick around a football.

It was unlike our first few days. Jorge Cariño’s morning live reports were beset by a combination of heavy rain and strong winds that sometimes knocked over the umbrella covering our setup or had us securing our equipment from water.

ABS-CBN live set up braving the rains at Aroroy, Masbate (Shot June 18, 2013 by Doni Bolante)

Our makeshift ‘ulan’ set up (Shot by Doni Bolante)

The slow-shrinking puddles near our satellite truck only remain of that ordeal. Our truck was left staying overnight at the port after the field crews of GMA 7 and TV5 returned to Manila.

The problematic weather also set back the Coast Guard’s search and rescue efforts for the seven still-missing passengers of the M/V Lady of Carmel which sank on its way here.

The ferry sank too deep (1,314 feet, say authorities) even for divers to check out. In comparison, the body of interior Sec. Jesse Robredo was recoveredfrom a downed plane nearly 200 feet underwater off Masbate City.

The most progress searchers made since recovering the two declared casualties of the M/V Carmel was to find planks, head rests, and packed food floating around the sinking site two days later.

The following day, the Coast Guard presumed the chances of finding the seven people alive too slim and switched the operation from rescue to retrieval. And with the monsoon rains, they were resigned to wait for reports of bodies that might wash up in the coasts.

Coast Guard search and rescue efforts bring back wooden planks, a head rest, and food items from the sunk M/V Lady of Carmel (Shot on June 16, 2013 by Val Cuenca, ABS-CBN News)

(Shots by Val Cuenca, ABS-CBN News)

It has not given rest, however, to the missing passengers’ families our news teams talked to across Masbate.

They are parents fearing that one of their children has already gone ahead of them to the grave. They are siblings pinning their hopes on an elder earning money across the sea.

Some take the uncertainty deeply, like Nenita Danao, mother of 11, among them Jocelyn, a domestic helper in Singapore. They expected Jocelyn to come home to Aroroy over the weekend, but were bothered when she did not. They knew she was riding the M/V Carmel, but later found she was not listed in the passenger manifesto.

Nenita tried to remain composed as she and a daughter were interviewed by ABS-CBN Legazpi’s Jose Carretero. There was a hint of anger as she told him they planned to sue the transport company.

“She’s really our breadwinner. Her siblings depend on her,” she said, raising her voice. “Look, one of them is about to graduate.”

Nenita Dayao cries over her daughter Jocelyn, who is among the seven missing passengers of the sunken M/V Lady of Carmel (Shot on June 20, 2013 by Jameson Salalima, ABS-CBN News Legazpi)

Nenita Dayao. (Shot by Jameson Salalima, ABS-CBN News Legazpi)

But later, Nenita was sobbing as the cameraman videotaped her holding Jocelyn’s graduation picture. She began to beg Jocelyn to forgive her for her shortcomings.  Soon, Nenita’s daughters were teary-eyed while consoling her.

Other parents we interviewed elsewhere could only say stoically they have been trying to accept, albeit painfully, that their children were no longer alive.

In Mandaon town, Oscar, father of missing passenger Dennis Manocan, is coming to grips with a string of tragedies. First he lost his father, then a son in a motorcycle accident, and now Dennis.

Dennis’s companion Abigail Barredo was supposed to come home for her uncle’s funeral. It would have been a Father’s Day bonus for her dad, Benjamin. Jorge Cariño asked him if they had any plans for that Sunday, but it seemed he was thinking of plans now that Abigail was gone. “It’s hard,” was all he could muster.

Fathers whose children are still missing from the ill-fated M/V Lady of Carmel - Dennis and Oscar Manocan, top; Benjamin and Abigail Barredo, below (Shots by Val Cuenca & Jameson Salalima, ABS-CBN News)

Fathers missing children: Dennis and Oscar Manocan, top; Benjamin and Abigail Barredo, below (Shots by Val Cuenca & Jameson Salalima, ABS-CBN News)

Their pleas are the same, and all in the same high tones. They just want closure—to see the bodies of their loved ones. They all implored the highest official in the land—President Aquino—to intervene.

The precedent is stark, after all. The government did not spare resources or time last year in recovering Jesse Robredo’s body. The circumstances are different this time, yet the families are hoping they will not be let down.

“Just find a way to find those missing,” said Oscar Manocan.

They are also searching for justice. Jocelyn Danao’s relatives said she and three others were not listed in the manifesto because the driver and conductor of the bus she rode deliberately hid them to pocket their fares.

Oscar Manocan had sharp words for the captain and crew after hearing other survivors talk about what happened as the M/V Carmel sank.

“The captain was the irresponsible one,” he said. “He thought of saving his life first before that of his passengers.”

However, no one among the authorities or even Medallion Transport has verified the allegations. And the cause of the sinking has yet to be confirmed.

ABS-CBN News crew talks with M/V Carmel survivor Alen Rapsing and her cousin Sonia Igno in Aroroy, Masbate (Shot June 18, 2013 by Doni Bolante)

Our crew talks with M/V Carmel survivor Alen Rapsing and her cousin Sonia Igno (Shot by Doni Bolante)

Those Medallion has extended help to are the ship’s 55 survivors, who visited the shipping lines’ offices in Aroroy and Masbate City.

Alen Rapsing, a household helper in Manila for eight years, could have drowned after failing to secure a lifejacket when the ship was abandoned. A fellow survivor in a lifeboat later drew her from the water. Alen was separated from her seven-year-old nephew but later found him saved.

Medallion gave Alen 2,000 pesos assistance, covered her nephew’s hospital bills, and took her contact number to follow up her insurance claim. She lost all her possessions–including money, a digital camera, a cell phone, and equipment for her cousin’s photo printing business.

A Medallion employee said the company also bought plane tickets for some who were returning to Manila.

As our team boarded another RoRo vessel back to the mainland, the Coast Guard sailed again to continue their search for the fallen M/V Carmel using sonar equipment.

Salvaging the ship, they said, would depend on its position underwater and if Medallion still wanted it recovered.

Maybe, no matter how bitter, the families’ search for their lost will end as well.

Coast Guard officers continue the search for the M/V Lady of Carmel in Masbate (Shot June 16, 2013 by Val Cuenca, ABS-CBN News)

(Shot by Val Cuenca, ABS-CBN News)

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