NEW BATAAN, Compostela Valley—The number of persons from this town who are missing in the aftermath of Typhoon “Pablo” could be higher than that on the official list, the mayor here said.
“What we have is a list of missing persons as reported by their relatives,” Mayor Lorenzo Balbin told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
But he said the local government learned there were transients who had come to this town to look for work before Pablo struck.
“We just don’t know because no one can make a report about them,” Balbin said.
He said that to make the missing persons list as accurate as possible—it is currently nearing 400—the local government had been interviewing families to find out if they had relatives or neighbors who were missing but unreported.
“We don’t want to guess,” he said.
Balbin said that the remains of close to 500 fatalities had been found and many of them remained unidentified.
“We will give each a decent burial,” he said, in a large tomb where the victims would be interred in individual coffins.
For those who were identified, Balbin said the town would provide free coffins and burial assistance.
“Our search and retrieval operation is still going on,” he said.
In Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur, relatives of 33 fishermen who disappeared at the height of Pablo, sought the help of local officials to find them.
Adelaida Badilla, municipal social welfare officer, said the fishermen went out to sea hours before Pablo made landfall in southern Mindanao.
Badilla said they were coordinating with other local government units to find the fishermen.
No false hopes
In General Santos City, Task Force Search and Rescue-GenSan told the relatives of over 300 fishermen missing off Surigao del Norte and Davao Oriental that “the chances of finding any of them alive had become so slim,” but it remained in search and rescue mode.
“We don’t want to give you false hopes, but let’s keep on hoping and praying,” Navy Capt. Lued Lincuna, task force operations officer, told about 100 relatives of the missing fishermen during a debriefing Monday.
Lincuna said a massive search and rescue operation was focused in the sea some 300 kilometers off Davao Oriental, or toward the Celebes Sea and Indonesian waters.
“The chief of staff of the armed forces of Indonesia has given our search and rescue teams clearance to operate in their territorial waters,” he said.
At least 22 boats from the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, United States Navy and fishermen are involved in the effort, Lincuna said.
Of the 372 missing fishermen, only 25 had been found, “17 of them alive.”
Authorities said the number of missing fishermen was so large because there were 47 fishing vessels composed of mother boats, carrier boats and light boats that had set out to sea from this city before the arrival of Pablo. Of the number, only three vessels had been retrieved.
“On Dec. 17, a US naval aircraft scoured the fishing grounds at the border of the Philippines and Indonesia but no sighting of survivors was made, only of floating debris,” Lincuna said. Dennis Jay Santos, Orlando Dinoy, Aquiles Zonio and Frinston Lim, Inquirer Mindanao