What do you tell a board of Inquiry when your company has suffered not one but four ferry disasters over the last twenty years?

You tell them it’s God’s fault. From the Inquirer:

 “I am taking the initiative of filing this marine protest to report the unfortunate tragedy that befell MV Princess of the Stars and to publicly and solemnly protest against the wind and waves and the fortuitous event or act of God, particularly Typhoon ‘Frank,’ that was the cause of the frustration of the voyage and the loss of our good ship,” Eugenio’s report said.

The frustration and rage here in the Philippines against the company is high. Yes, people here have a “behala na” approach to disasters, but even the uneducated know you don’t sail a ship into the middle of a typhoon.

The shipowner is standing on the “the regulations didn’t say we couldn’t leave Manila”…and the shipowner insists he  the captain, who left port when Manila was under a Signal one, wasn’t required to check the destination weather, which was signal three at the time…except legally, the law has been changed: although regulations don’t forbid a ship leaving, the regulations do insist that the captain has to use common sense and check the weather…whoops, whines the ship owner, why didn’t you tell us that…it’s your fault for not letting us know about the regulations….duh.

In his defense, the typhoon did change course…but the destination city was under a Signal three when the ferry left, so there are still a lot of questions to answer…and then there are questions why the engine of a fairly new Japanese built ship should fail in the storm? (The cause of the disaster was engine failure, which allowed winds and waves to ground it against a reef, causing a hole in the side, flooding, and a fast sinking/overturning).

In the meanwhile, there has been a huge local response to help, with government, military, and churches rushing in aid. Right now the need is for easily cooked food; later will come the need to rebuild homes, schools, churches, and agriculture, both fields and poultry houses that were devastated.

There is also a need for body bags/formalin, so that the bodies can be buried at home. There are so many bodies that locals are photographing and burying them immediately…some of the bodies are from the ferry, but others are from the 40 fishing vessels that are missing…

Filipinos are famous for their helping their family and neighbors in time of disaster. So the majority of the displaced have been housed with family members, and others are sheltered in local schools and public buildings. But there is a huge reconstruction job to be done…one mayor complains that she has had to use her own savings because of the delay in money from the government, but I suspect many businessmen, barangay leaders, and others will chip in until outside help comes.

In the meanwhile, the USS Reagan and it’s ships are headed there with all those supplies and help that had been sent to Burma but refused. One clueless PInoy politician whines why we need an aircraft carrier with jets, apparantly not being aware that the cranes, supplies, helicopters  and of course experienced help will be on the ships too. The US will work in cooperation and under the Philippine authorities in the area. Indeed, every year there are joint “military” exercizes between the Philippine Armed Forces and various US military groups, and last year’s exercize was about coordinating in times of disaster.

In the meanwhile, despite the fact that President Arroyo is under constant attack from the opposition for corruption, only a few have put their foot in their mouth to criticize that she continued her trip to the US despite the typhoon.

The best answer to his cluelessness and criticism of Mrs Arroyo not rushing back for a photo op is this quote from a Presidential spokesman:“What would we have preferred? A presidential shoulder to cry on, or a thousand helping hands from a US carrier group who can help victims?” Alvarez said.

“I think the people on the ground, much [as] they want to group-hug with the President, would prefer the GI Joes,” he said.

In the meanwhile, the local tourist agency reminds people that the lovely beaches of Boracay are still open for business, and more tourists will help the economy of the entire region.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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