World stops for bereaved; lives are put on hold

MANILA, Philippines—The world has virtually stopped for the families of the missing passengers of the sunken MV Princess of the Stars.

Anxious, tired and worried, they have abandoned their regular routines and put their lives on hold for the round-the-clock wait for any word that the next batch of survivors or bodies found could include their loved ones.

Cielo Gaudel, 18, has not reported for work in a restaurant as she keeps vigil in Sulpicio Lines Inc.’s office at the North Harbor in Manila to wait for updates about the search and rescue operations.

Her mother Lucy, brother Barry and his wife Aileen, and her 7-year-old nephew Joshua Mijares were all on the ferry and were supposed to catch another ride to Butuan City after the ship shall have docked in Cebu.

Gaudel has been at the Sulpicio Lines office since Sunday, and the wait has been excruciating, especially since she thinks the shipping company has not been doing enough to help her and other relatives.

“A minute feels like an hour,” she said.

Feelings hurt

Gaudel expressed frustration that Sulpicio Lines had not made good on its supposed promise to bring the families to Cebu to check if their loved ones were among those whose bodies have been recovered. She said many relatives were banking on the shipping company to keep its word.

“Our hurt feelings are being hurt all over again,” she said.

Gaudel said she would accept the news that her loved ones were all dead. All she wanted was to recover their bodies to give them a proper burial. But a part of her was still hoping that they had been recovered.

Acknowledging that she could hardly sleep because of worry, she said she would rather remain at SLI to wait for news.

Gaudel has been asking other family members to bring her clothes and food at the Sulpicio Lines office, which she has made her new home since the tragedy.

Pictures of happier times

Outside the door of the Sulpicio Lines office at North Harbor, the walls and a board were plastered with pictures of the missing passengers, along with the contact numbers of their kin.

Several of the pictures were candid shots showing smiling people, taken during happier times and belying the possibly grim fate that had befallen them.

One colored photo showed four young, smiling girls whose ages range from 4 to 12 years old, and are named Kathlyn, Kyla, Korine and Klaris Nuqui.

Alongside their photograph was that of a 39-year-old woman named Helen Nuqui, presumably their mother.

Another photograph showed the smiling faces of Estrella and Rogelio Villaruel, aged 51 and 58, respectively. On the sides of the photo were the contact numbers of their relatives, who are waiting for word about the couple’s fate.

Legal action

With families despairing from the lack of any word about their missing kin, the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) Thursday offered to help them gain access to the recovered bodies to see if any of their loved ones were among them.

PAO chief Persida Rueda-Acosta met with the worried relatives at the Sulpicio Lines office Thursday and promised to help convince authorities to either bring the recovered bodies to Manila or to at least take pictures of these so that those in Manila could take a look at these.

If there was still no help, the PAO would take legal action against Sulpicio Lines, possibly filing petitions for recovery of bodies, habeas corpus, damages or replevin, a process in which seized items are restored to their owners pending the outcome of an action, according to Acosta.

She also said the PAO would help the victims file the class action suit that they were thinking of resorting to if no adequate help would come from Sulpicio Lines.

She said PAO, through the prodding of the VACC, tapped the help of the University of the Philippines’ independent forensic group to help in identifying the bodies.

VACC chair Martin Diño appealed to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and to AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Yano to provide aircraft for transporting the bodies to Manila.

Diño also criticized Sulpicio Lines for not taking immediate action to preserve the recovered bodies so that these would be identified.

He wondered why Sulpicio Lines did not send a helicopter to Romblon province immediately after news of the capsizing was broadcast to bring formalin, embalmer and body bags so that the bodies immediately recovered could have been preserved for identification.

Diño said pictures could have been taken using the cameras of cellular phones, and implored rescuers to do this.

Bodies first before P200K

He scoffed at the P200,000 reportedly offered to the families of the victims. He said before this was paid, the bodies had to be recovered first.

The presence of PAO and VACC officials seemed to enliven some of the families keeping vigil at the Sulpicio Lines office.

Families pressed around Acosta as she briefed them about what the PAO would do, clinging to hope that she provided. Pictures of passengers as well as contact numbers were pressed onto her hands, along with requests for quick action.

As Acosta advised relatives not to lose hope because there was still the possibility that survivors could be found, whispers of “sana nga” (I hope so) were heard from the crowd.(PDI)

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