By Tara Yap
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is under fire for alleged lapses that left at least 30 people dead when three passenger boats capsized last August 3 along the waters separating Iloilo City and nearby coastal towns from the island province of Guimaras.
“Masakit isipon. Nga-a ging tulok lang sang taga Coast Guard ang sakayan? Bal-an nila may tawo pa didto na trap sa sulod, (It hurts. Why did the Coast Guard personnel just stare at the boat? They knew people were still trapped inside),” said Rocill Garcia Responso.
A 33-year-old mother from San Lorenzo town, Guimaras, Responso is one of the survivors of the ill-fated M/B Jenny Vince, the third boat to capsize along the Iloilo Strait in a span of two hours.
“Ano? Nahadlok ang taga Coast Guard sa balod? Kabuhi sang tawo tani ila ging isip. Ging sumpa-an na nila nga obligasyon. Tani na salbar pa ang iban namon nga upod (What? Were the Coast Guard personnel afraid of the big waves? They should have thought about saving the life of others. That is their obligation),” an emotional Responso said.
The PCG’s response during rescue operations for M/B Jenny Vince is another issue that emerged in the most fatal maritime incident along the Iloilo Strait, which is previously known as one of the country’s safest harbors.
The other issue is how PCG authorized passenger boats to sail amidst an ongoing search and rescue operations for passengers of M/B Chi-Chi and M/B Keziah 2, which capsized two hours earlier.
The three ill-fated boats flipped over after encountering what locals call “pugada” (squall), which is an instant emergence of strong winds and waves.
“Sa matu-od nga istorya, laban nga taga Coast Guard nag dala lang sang na rescue nga tawo didto sa Parola Wharf,” (The real story is that the Coast Guard just transported the ones who were rescued to Parola Wharf),” Reyjand Guinsatao lamented..
The 32-year-old Guinsatao recounted how he, four fellow survivors, and boat crew members were the ones who initially pulled out the other trapped passengers inside M/B Jenny Vince before any PCG personnel arrived.
Guinsatao said only three or four PCG personnel actually jumped into the water from the PCG patrol boats to directly help.
Both Guinsatao and Responso expressed dismay and sadness that the PCG personnel who responded did not bring equipment such as an axe to further open the boat’s hull or knives to slash the boat’s tarpaulin materials so the ones trapped inside could escape.
“Imbis mag bulig, sako pa ang iban nga taga Coast Guard sa pag picture kag video (Instead of helping, the other Coast Guard personnel were busy taking pictures and videos),” Reyjand added.
The allegations of Responso and Guinsatao are consistent with the allegations of M/B Jenny Vince’s owner that the PCG personnel did not listen when they were told that passengers were still trapped inside the boat’s hull.
M/B Jenny Vince was swept all the way to the coastal town of Dumangas, Iloilo, by the morning of Sunday (August 4). Inside the hull were 10 dead passengers.
PCG tried its best
While there is an ongoing investigation, the PCG hierarchy in Western Visayas region maintained that its personnel did their best.
“Our men worked to save as many as people possible. It is unfair to judge them,” said Commodore Victor Dela Vega, PCG district commander of Western Visayas.
Dela Vega refuted allegations that PCG personnel did not heed the call to look for the remaining passengers trapped inside M/B Jenny Vince.
Dela Vega explained that PCG hooked a rope from a cargo vessel and tried to pull M/B Jenny Vince to the nearest port in Iloilo City, but it sank and could not be located until it was spotted near the coastline of Dumangas town the next day.
“We were there looking for the next 24 hours,” Dela Vega added.
But Dela Vega admitted that the PCG is not fully equipped.
“We are not like the Coast Guard in the United States. But I cannot answer for those who were present there,” Dela Vega said.
Death toll rise to 30
As of 3 p.m. of August 6, the death toll has reached 30.
The death increased after a helicopter of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) spotted two bodies off the coast of Dumangas Tuesday morning. The bodies were retrieved by PCG and taken to Iloilo City for identification.
In total, 64 survived out of the 83 passengers and crew members of three boats.
To recall, the first incident occurred past noontime of August 3. M/B Chi-Chi was on its way to Jordan Wharf in Jordan town, Guimaras from Parola Wharf in Iloilo City while M/B Keziah was coming from the other direction. The two boats encountered the squall. By 3:30 p.m., M/B Jenny Vince also capsized.