Panay Today Special Report on the August 3 Iloilo Strait Tragedy
ILOILO City – In the afternoon of August 3, 2019, 31 lives have been lost to accidents in Iloilo Strait. The tragedy occurred when three passenger vessels plying Guimaras to Iloilo were struck by squall and big waves generated by strong monsoon winds and heavy rains that capsized the three motorbancas.
Testimonies from survivors pointed at the Philippine Coast Guard’s inadequate and inept rescue operations and gross negligence for allowing the third vessel to navigate despite the first accident that occurred at noontime.
Government agencies responses were also limited while people are clamoring for food and transportation assistance. More than a hundred motorbancas were now suspended with hundreds of families losing their source of livelihood.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) issued at 5am of Saturday, August 3, Gale Warning #9 for strong to gale force winds associated with the Southwest monsoon.
The areas expected to be affected are located at the Western Seaboard of Luzon namely La Union, Pangasinan, Zambales, Bataan, Occidental Mindoro and Northern Palawan.
Likewise, in the Facebook Page of DOST_PAGASA, Regional Weather Forecast which was valid from 6:00 AM of August 3 until 6:00 AM of August 4 revealed that a “Low Pressure Area (LPA) was estimated at 1,135km East of Virac, Catanduanes (14.6N, 134.7E) and the Southwest Monsoon is affecting the western section of Luzon.” It also added that “light to moderate winds blowing from the Southwest to West will prevail over Visayas with slight to moderate seas.”
Particularly in Iloilo and Guimaras, the weather and sea condition were described as “cloudy skies with scattered rains and thunderstorms with wind speed of 30-50kph from Southwest to West. Coastal waters are moderate to rough with height ranging from 1.25m to 3.25m. Temperature is from 25 to 31 degrees Celsius.”
The tragedy on August 3
The first tragedy on August 3 happened around 12:15 noontime when two motorbancas MB Chi-chi and MB Keziah 2 were reportedly hit by squall causing them capsize. The two motorbancas came from Parola Wharf in Iloilo City and were both heading towards Jordan Wharf in Guimaras.
Based on the manifesto, MB Chi-chi was onboard with 46 passengers including its crew members. Meanwhile, MB Keziah 2 only had five crew members onboard.
After the incident, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) issued an order to temporarily stop the trips from Iloilo to Guimaras and vice versa. But around 3 o’clock in the afternoon of the same day, according to one the survivors, the PCG allowed their passenger vessel MB Jenny Vince to travel.
As a result, at 3:30pm, MB Jenny Vince traveling from Buenavista Wharf going to Parola Wharf capsized when it was reportedly hit by squall as well.
Around 5:30pm, Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas suspended all trips from Iloilo City to Guimaras.
Casualties and survivors
In the evening of August 6, the Iloilo City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office through its Facebook Page released its consolidated data on the number of casualties and survivors following the incidents.
According to the ICDRRMO, there were a total of 83 passengers and 13 crews onboard the three motorbancas. Out of the 96 individuals, 52 passengers and all 13 crews survived. The remaining 31 passengers were declared dead.
Following the suspension of trips in the afternoon of August 3, Mayor Treñas immediately called the city government to a meeting and activated the Response Cluster and Local Management Team. Iloilo City Police Office Director PCol. Martin Defensor Jr. was tasked to head as incident commander.
The provincial government of Guimaras together with its local government units from Jordan, Nueva Valencia, Buenavista and Sibunag also held its meeting while other government agencies also held their own.
Search and rescue operations
The search and rescue operations were immediately done mainly by survivors and crews, and operators of other passenger vessels.
According to the town Mayors of Jordan and Buenavista in a radio interview, there was no ground commander during the rescue operations and the PCG only entered the rescue scene two hours after the first incident and came without rescue equipment.
According to Jordan Mayor Ruben Corpuz, the PCG did not establish a chain of responsibility during the operations. He added that while they were busy coordinating with the Iloilo City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, the PCG was nowhere to be found.
Mayor Corpuz also added that he momentarily saw PCG-Western Visayas district commander Commodore Allan Victor Dela Vega tending the survivors being brought to Parola Wharf but suddenly disappeared.
For Buenavista Mayor Eugene Reyes, the PCG seemed to act without clear protocols and without sense of urgency. He considered it a blunder for the PCG’s apparent neglect.
Narratives of survivors
A crew of MB Eleine May narrated to his son how they responded and rescued two children from MB Chi-chi:
“After we saw the incident, we directly head towards MB Chi-chi and tied its rear part to the head of our vessel. The captain was unconscious when we got him and we heard children shouting for help from the inside. We bore a hole and took the two children. The PCG said they rescued many but it was only us which aided MB Chi-chi. The PCG did nothing to help us.”
According to a passenger from another motorbanca, their crews were the first to respond and rescue the passengers of MB Jenny Vince. They used an ax to penetrate the capsized boat as they heard other passengers knocking for help from the inside. But their equipment barely scratched the vessel and it was hard for them to maneuver because of strong waves. The passengers then called the attention of the PCG but the PCG did not take any action even until the next morning.
A testimony of one of the survivor-passengers of MB Jenny Vince said that it took one hour before they were rescued. Their capsized passenger vessel was even washed ashore the Jordan wharf while they were trapped inside. If it not had been for one of their co-passengers who fired a warning shot, they would not have survived. They later learned that many large vessels, presumably owned by the PCG, were nearby but did nothing to rescue them. The survivor is now recuperating in a hospital.
“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 survivor Rocill Garcia Responso in an interview with the Manila Bulletin.
“Kay ang crew pa namon ang nag bira bira pang rescue..kag pang wasay sang pumpboat para lang makoot ang mga tao sa sulod. (It was our boat’s crew who axed the capsized boat so we could get out),” said survivor Maria Juanico on Facebook.
Blame-shaming the poor
While accounts from victims and rescuers pointed to the negligence and culpability of the PCG, Commodore Dela Vega was quick to blame the victims and said “it is time to review the design of the pump boats and if proven to be vulnerable to the elements, the boats must be phased out.”
This statement from Dela Vega is a glaring reflection of the how the PCG acted and responded to the incidents, by blaming the victims instead of helping them. Dela Vega only exposed himself as the culprit for not performing the central tasks of the PCG in cases such as this – that they are “mandated and responsible to perform maritime search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, maritime safety, marine environmental protection and maritime security.”
The crews and operators proved that they can follow orders upon instructions from the PCG. It was the PCG that made the wrong call for allowing the third vessel to travel.
Clearly, the PCG has to be blamed for criminal neglect by allowing the travel of MB Jenny Vince and for not performing its tasks and mandate in the conduct of search and rescue operations.
This is not the first time that PCG was put in hot waters for negligence.
Last October 18, 2015, passenger motorboat Tawash capsized because of a squall. Nine lives were lost in the incident. Former Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog criticized the PCG for allowing the motorboat to travel despite imminent strong winds and big waves.
Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) said that they will provide assistance of Php200,000 to families of those who died and Php50,000 to those who were hospitalized after the tragedy.
They clarified however that only those in the list of passenger manifesto will be given assistance.
The Iloilo City government used its emergency fund to provide immediate assistance to the families of 19 casualties and 18 survivors on August 6.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Region 6 and the Office of the Civil Defense both promised to provide Php20,000 to the burial processing of the fatalities.
On August 5, MARINA suspended the operations of 108 motorbancas crisscrossing the Iloilo Strait. Today, Engr. Roel Pador, senior shipping specialist of MARINA in Western Visayas, said “the agency had long ordered the phase-out of wooden-hulled passenger sea vessels.”
MARINA issued Circular 2016-02 Series of 2016 that pushed for the modernization of sea vessels.
As a result, with an average of 4-5 crews per vessel and their operators, about 500 individuals and their families have lost their livelihood.
But these motorbancas and their operators are not to be blamed for being “unseaworthy”. For years, they complied with safety and security measures prescribed by government agencies including the mandatory lifejacket provision.
These motorbancas are able to cross the Iloilo Strait without problems during calm weather and even during rainy periods hence they are safe to travel just like any other passenger motorbancas all throughout the country.
Following the incident, only roro vessels charging Php35.00 per passenger and other large private vessels approved by MARINA are allowed to cross the Iloilo Strait. For the passengers of roro vessels, this will translate to an additional minimum fare of Php70.00. This will increase to about Php110.00 if a passenger is coming from Buenavista town.
Other private vessels will be charging as much as Php100.00 for regular passengers, Php80.00 for students, Php71.00 for senior citizens, and Php50.00 for minors.
If only the government has provided their needs, if MARINA saw it fit to upgrade their motorbancas, the loss of livelihood of hundreds of poor families could have been prevented and additional expenses halted./www.panaytoday.net
PHOTO: Rescuers race with time to save passengers trapped inside the capsized MB Jenny Vince in the afternoon of August 3. Photo used with permission from Ian Paul Cordero.
 PAGASA Gale Warning #9, 5AM August 3, 2019
 PAGASA Visayas Regional Weather Forecast, 5AM August 3, 2019
 Province Of Guimaras Facebook page