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Bodies of 2 Filipinos found in rubble; 4 still missing

By Cynthia Balana, Marlon Ramos, Julie Alipala
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:28:00 01/20/2010

Filed Under: earthquakes, Disasters (general), Heroism, Relief & Aid Organisations

MANILA, Philippines?The nation Tuesday joined two Filipino mothers in their grief over the deaths of a son and a daughter in quake-ravaged Haiti.

Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo ordered the Philippine flag at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) flown at half-staff in mourning for Pearly Panangui and Jerome Yap whose bodies were pulled out from the rubble nearly a week after a powerful quake devastated the impoverished Caribbean nation.

In Zamboanga City, Panangui?s mother, Manuela, said her daughter died a hero.

?She?s a hero not only for us but for the Filipino people. That was what she wanted, to be a hero, that was why she became a soldier,? Manuela said.

In San Fernando City in Pampanga province, Yap?s mother, Dr. Leticia Yap, said: ?This is such a difficult time.?

She said Elmer Cato, First Secretary of the Philippine Mission to the UN, called her from New York on Monday night to inform her that the body of her son had been found.

Yap, a pediatrician and a member of San Fernando?s multi-sectoral governance council, thanked all those who prayed that her son and the other Filipinos in Haiti would survive the quake.

Yap, a bachelor, was last seen in the Philippines during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Officials continued to cling to hope that four other Filipinos believed still trapped in the ruins of flattened buildings in the Haiti capital of Port-au-Prince would be found alive.

28 Filipinos found safe

The DFA said 28 more Filipinos in Haiti had been found safe, bringing to 194 the total number of Filipinos accounted for.

Based on the latest count, there were 290 to 300 Filipinos in Haiti at the time the 7.0-magnitude quake struck on Tuesday last week. The number excludes the 175 members of the Philippine military?s peacekeeping contingent, to which Panangui belonged.

Panangui was a Navy Data Processor 3, while Yap was an executive assistant at the UN mission.

Their bodies were recovered from the rubble within hours of each other?Yap?s on Monday night (Manila time) and Panangui Tuesday morning (Manila time).

Yap was 43 and hailed from Pampanga. Panangui was 30 and her family lives in Zamboanga City.

?A Filipino soldier-peacekeeper and a Filipino UN civilian staff member made the supreme sacrifice for the cause of peace and humanity,? DFA spokesperson Eduardo Malaya said.

Yap?s and Panangui?s bodies were recovered by rescue teams from the rubble of Christopher Hotel, where the headquarters of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti is located.

UN officials also killed

Yap served as Executive Assistant to Luis Carlos da Costa, the deputy special representative of the UN Secretary General. Da Costa and several other UN officials were also killed in the quake.

Foreign Undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr. said the UN would take care of the repatriation of the remains of Yap and Panangui.

?We are also focusing on the other Filipino survivors who might want to come home. We will try to prioritize women and children,? Conejos said.

The body of Panangui was recovered at about 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday (Manila time), while that of Yap was retrieved on Monday night, said Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson.

Brawner said Panangui?s office was located on the second floor of the collapsed hotel.

Still trapped

Two other Filipino soldiers?Air Force Sgt. Janice Arocena and Army Sgt. Eustacio Bermudez?are believed still trapped in the ruins of the hotel.

?On behalf of the AFP Chief of Staff, Gen. Victor Ibrado, and all the men and women of the [AFP], I wish to convey our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of DP3 Panangui,? Brawner said in a news briefing.

Officials continued to hope the four still missing Filipinos would be rescued.

Fabian and Calican

The two others missing were Grace Fabian and Geraldine Calican. Both were said to be trapped in the rubble of the Caribbean Supermarket, which was also toppled by the earthquake.

Referring to Arocena and Bermudez, Brawner said: ?We are very hopeful that they are still alive and will be rescued soon. All our efforts are being done to find and rescue them.?

He said photographs of the collapsed UN headquarters showed that the third floor area, where Arocena and Bermudez were working, was not totally flattened by the quake.

?There?s a big chance that there are survivors in this area,? he said, pointing to a portion of the hotel where the two Filipino peacekeepers are believed trapped.

But the voices and tapping sounds that rescue workers had heard from underneath the rubble had grown weaker, he said.

Brawner said members of the AFP contingent were closely working with foreign rescue workers to rescue Fabian and Calican.

He said the AFP would give Panangui honors fit for a hero upon her body?s return to the country.

?We would like to thank the family of DP3 Panangui for allowing her to spend her fruitful years to be of service to the AFP and the whole nation,? Brawner said.

?Let her passing remind us of the heroism of the Filipino soldier?a single individual who made the ultimate sacrifice while sharing the commitment of her nation to international peace and security.?

Criminology graduate

Panangui, a native of Zambonga del Sur, was a secretary at the Philippine Navy headquarters before she joined the Philippine mission to Haiti.

Two years after she finished her criminology course at Zamboanga College, Panangui joined the military service, taking courses in antiterrorism training, basic marine training, data processing specialization and shipboard training.

She received several medals and citations for her role in various military operations in Mindanao.

Brawner paid tribute to Panangui and for ?the dreams she kept alive? and the ?enduring image of a Filipino soldier [she left behind]?always ready to stand for our country.? With a report from Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon

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