Tourist buried today; legal action eyed vs rafting firm

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014


CAGAYAN DE ORO -- The family of Aizza Mae Calipusan Balbin, 26, who died while taking part in a white water rafting adventure in Cagayan de Oro on June 13, buries her ashes today (Thursday) at her hometown in Loboc, Bohol.

Aizza was remembered as a happy person, always smiling, and ready to give anyone a hand, Marjorie Balbin-Paredes, a first-cousin of Aizza Mae, told Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro after Aizza Mae’s body was retrieved Sunday, June 15.

Aizza Mae was born on November 27, 1987 to George Balbin, a former music teacher, and Ruth Balbin, an employee at the Loboc treasurers’ office.

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She obtained a nursing degree from Holy Name University in Tagbilaran City, Bohol in 2008 and had worked as a home-based nurse for a US-based firm that provides nursing care in the US.

Along with a younger brother who works in the Middle East, Aizza Mae had wanted to work abroad but opted to stay home in Loboc to help care for her ailing father who has been bed-ridden after a vehicular accident in 2005.

“It was her dream to work in Australia but she wanted to be near her family and look after her father,” Paredes said.

Musically-inclined like her father, Aizza Mae used to be part of the world-famous Loboc Children’s Choir. She was part of the choir when it participated in a music festival in Tianjin, China in 2000 and in other parts of Asia.

Aizza Mae’s remains were cremated on June 16 and her ashes were brought to her hometown by five relatives who came after she went missing when she fell from the rubber raft that capsized after it hit a huge limestone outcropping.

All aboard fell to the rampaging water, and river guides believed Aizza Mae was sucked under a labyrinth of tunnels under the outcropping.

Using poles with hooks and bare hands, the seven guides first removed driftwood and other debris trapped underneath the boulder, which rafters call an undercut, formed when fast moving water slams into a big rock, creating a deep pool with strong current.

Glitches on response

Aizza Mae’s relatives believe there were flaws in the safety and emergency response protocol.

“[Ang Kagay] Marami talagang glitches when it comes to safety and emergency response. And both the City Government and the rafting community are responsible for that,” Paredes said in a text message to Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro on Wednesday.

In dismay and disbelief, Paredes said Balbin’s family still continues to accept her death slowly.

But Paredes assured the family will sit and talk about their next actions on who should be liable and responsible of their family member’s death.

In the meantime, they are hoping the government and the rafting community is doing what they should do.

“There should be strict implementation of rules and precautionary measures. Emergency response teams and technical rescuers should be stationed in different points of the river. We will be closely monitoring the government and the rafting community’s action on this matter,” she said.

Legal action

Paredes added that the Cagayan de Oro City Government and Kagay Journey-Whitewater Rafting and Kayaking covered the expenses incurred in the search, rescue and retrieval operation to find Aizza Mae’s body up to bringing her ashes back to her hometown.

The City Social and Welfare Development head Teddy Sabuga-a also went to Bohol to represent the City Government and personally condole with Aizza Mae’s family.

However, Paredes said to give justice to Aizza Mae’s death, the family is considering on taking legal action.

“The family will definitely take further legal action regarding compensation for her loss. But we will be discussing that further after we lay Aizza to her final resting place,” she said.

Ready

In a telephone interview with Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro on Wednesday, Kagay part owner and operations manager Roldan Kaamiño said that the company is ready to face charges if ever Aizza Mae’s family will file a case.

“Of course, the company should be ready. If we do not respond to their filing of charges, that if they are going to, that is suspicious,” Kaamiño said.

He also said that with the task force created by the City Government, he sees that accidents will be minimized and it was a better move for the City to give attention to the rafting industry.

No protocol

“There is no protocol gyud. If ever accidents happen, we do not know where to go and who to call. But with the task force creation, I think that we can really avoid this to happen again,” he said.

At present, Kaamiño and some of Kagay staff are in Bohol to attend Aizza Mae's burial.

Task Force Rapids

To possibly avert any tragic incident from happening again, the City Government organized Task Force Rapids (TFR) on June 16. It is headed by Dorothy Jean Pabayo, former Department of Tourism-Northern Mindanao regional director, who is acting as TFR’s consultant.

The TFR was created to ensure the safety of tourists who will visit the city and its various tourist sites.

Comprised by different agencies and whitewater rafting outfitters, Pabayo believed it will strengthen the city’s tourism industry and look into how to accommodate the influx of tourists.

“We are learning from all of this because of the incident,” she said. (Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro/Sunnex)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on June 19, 2014.

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