Filipinos in downed Malaysian plane

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Friday, July 18, 2014


WHEN Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (MH370) plunged into most probably the southern Indian Ocean last March, the first question we asked was whether Filipinos were among the plane’s 239 passengers. It was a natural reaction because people are basically parochial. That’s precisely why proximity or nearness is one of the news values.

Last Thursday (Friday in the Philippines), Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, which was en route from Amsterdam (capital city of the Netherlands) to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, crashed in Eastern Ukraine. Investigators are still looking into the cause of the crash, although the plane was most probably shot down.

Conflict between the government and rebels either aided or egged on by nearby Russia has been gripping eastern and southern Ukraine. Last March, or during the initial stages of the unrest, Russia annexed Crimea. Pro-Russian rebels soon surfaced in parts of eastern Ukraine, prompting the country’s government to launch an offensive against them.

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When reports of the crash reached us, our first question was a no-brainer: Were there Filipinos among the 283 passengers and 15 crew members that perished in the crash?

Here’s the official list of nationalities of those onboard MH17: 154 Dutch, 43 Malaysian (including 15 crew), 27 Australian, 12 Indonesian, 9 British, 4 German, 4 Belgian, 3 Filipinos, 1 Canadian and 41 unverified.

The initial info says that three Filipinos were among the casualties, although there are still 41 bodies with unverified nationalities. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has still to get the names of these Filipinos, with the Philippine embassies in Malaysia and the Netherlands gathering more information.

Because what was hit was a civilian plane, the contending parties in the Ukrainian conflict naturally denied involvement in the crash. The Ukraine blamed the pro-Russia separatists while Russia’s Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine for indirectly causing the crash because its offensive created the volatile situation that may have led to the tragedy.

A CNN report said that if the plane was really downed by a missile, it must not have been the shoulder-fired type. A military analyst said shoulder-fired missiles can at best reach 15,000 feet. MH17, however, was reportedly flying at nearly 33,000 feet. So the most likely weapon used was a surface-to-air missile.

A Ukrainian official claimed it was a Buk surface-to-air missile. But that claim should be taken within the context of who said it.

Anyway, the Buk surface-to-air missile system is a legacy of the Cold War era and was built by the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) that has splintered into many states (the “base” of the USSR was Russia). Ukrainian rebel forces denied having the Buk missile in its arsenal, but Russian troops are also massed near Russia’s border with Ukraine.

What this shows is that current unrests rooted in old conflicts and which are unfolding far from our country can always have an effect on us. Only few Filipinos were interested when the separatist problem in the Ukraine broke out this year. With Filipinos in the MH17 flight, we are moved to brush up on our knowledge of the Ukraine conflict.

Now we know that it is important to monitor rifts that unfurl in other parts of the world and know where the conflict areas are. In the Philippines’ version of the diaspora, Filipinos can be found almost everywhere in the world or wherever jobs and salaries are available. That’s why when international conflict areas surface, we are always led to ask: Are Filipinos there?

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 19, 2014.

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