Remembering victims of sea tragedies

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Sunday, August 17, 2014


THE Fr. Tito Soquiño that I knew was a priest who sat silently most of the time during meetings of the Cebu Coalition against the Pork Barrel System. I was surprised to see him on board the Coast Guard (CG) boat that brought us to the spot where mv Saint Thomas Aquinas sank after it was rammed by a cargo vessel a year ago.

Relatives of those who died when the passenger ship was rammed by a cargo vessel on Aug. 16, 2013 requested the CG and 2Go officials to help in the blessing and laying flowers. Aside from Fr. Tito, the CG and 2Go officials, members of the Cebu media and technical divers joined us.

It took me a while to realize that Fr. Tito is known as the diver priest. He later quipped in jest that running priest Fr. Robert Reyes is well-known because many see
him when he runs on land. Nobody sees Fr. Tito under the sea.

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Listening to Fr. Tito, he recalled a similar blessing ceremony on the same site last year before the start of retrieval operations for bodies of those who died. He also related Pope Francis’s prayers for victims of a sea tragedy in Korea.

After the ceremony, Giovanni Enesio told reporters covering the event that he lost family members in the tragic incident. Only the body of his grandfather was recovered.

Enesio, who was accompanied by his sister Joselle, thanked the CG and 2Go officials for making the blessing and floating of flowers at the site of the tragedy possible.

Bernil Gastardo, head of Philippine cave divers, later told me about penetrating the different rooms inside the ferry where they found bodies. They, however, did not find bodies on the seabed where the ferry laid on its side. Some 21 persons are still missing.

Another 42 bodies buried at the Carreta cemetery that remain unidentified were also blessed the other day. No relative, however, went to the cemetery during the blessing ceremony and an earlier mass arranged by 2Go officials.

Lito Salvio, 2Go VP, told reporters they already settled most of the claims. Delays are met in the cases of the missing and the unidentified though efforts are exerted to facilitate identification with the Cebu City government and Soco.

Reflecting on these activities, I think settling the claims and blessing ceremonies are important in the painful process of moving on for all parties concerned.

I wonder though whether there are similar commemorations of past tragedies like the June 21, 2008 sinking of mv Princess of the Stars where only 32 survived and over 300 bodies recovered out of some 800 passengers.

***

Being both involved in the anti-pork movement, Fr. Tito and I briefly talked about the preparations for the national people’s congress and launching of the people’s initiative signature campaign on Aug. 23 here in Cebu City.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma’s pastoral letter that was read in yesterday’s masses in Cebu demonstrates solid backing for people’s initiative by the local archdiocese.

Amid confusion on the pork issue, the pastoral letter puts forth this definition of pork barrel--“… a lump sum amount given to any branch of government, the specific use of which is left to the discretion of one person and his/her minions. This is known as the pork barrel system. As a system, it is open to corruption and misuse for political patronage. The issue is against the pork barrel as a system, wherever and in whatever form it might exist.”

Moreover, the pastoral letter points out pork barrel insertions in the 2015 budget.

“This makes it clear that those who benefit from the present pork barrel system will not let go in practice.”

The way I look at it, those who benefit from the pork barrel now won’t give up without a fight. Instead of a people power uprising like Edsa 1 and 2, however, anti-pork barrel advocates have agreed to wage the fight through the people’s initiative.

And getting a nationwide rainbow movement that includes the militants to wage the struggle through the constitutional form of people power is no mean feat.

***

Cebu will also be the venue of a different kind of gathering this week. Top tech leaders like David McClure of 500 Startups are coming over for the annual gathering of Filipino startup community stakeholders called Geeks on a Beach.

Are these people coming over just to enjoy our beaches? Perhaps, but I gathered from non-Filipino geeks who decided to base their businesses in Cebu that they see something big developing. “The Philippine tech scene was like Europe years ago,” one said.

(Follow @anol_cebu in Twitter)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 18, 2014.

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