‘I can’t even tell which coffin bears my daughter’
Marciano Apostol has not seen or spoken with his daughter for more than two years, which by now should make their reunion deeply poignant.
But instead it became a moment of horror for the 55-year-old father, who arrived Friday morning at Arkong Bato cemetery in Valenzuela City just as 49 coffins were being brought in, one of them possibly containing the charred remains of his own Mary Liza, 29.
And it only got more painful from there. “I came here to bury my daughter, but I can’t even tell which of the coffins is hers,” said Apostol, who came all the way from Pangasinan province with his youngest son.
Just numbers for now
Mary Liza was counted among the 72 people whose bodies were recovered from the seven-hour blaze that engulfed the Kentex footwear factory in Barangay Ugong on Wednesday. Less than 48 hours later, authorities decided to have the remains temporarily interred at the cemetery pending their identification and in the interest of public sanitation.
Seven red trucks from the city government’s motor pool division carried the 49 coffins to the cemetery, where “apartment-type” tombs were marked with numbers, not names, to later guide grieving families in the event positive identifications are made.
The 49 coffins were already the second batch; the first group of 21 bodies was brought to the cemetery for a nighttime burial late Thursday.
Apostol recounted that in the days before his daughter’s death, he was inexplicably in low spirits. “I was not my usual self. I felt sad but I couldn’t understand why. Now I realize it’s because this would happen,” he told reporters.
He learned of Mary Liza’s fate through her friend who called him up Wednesday night, shortly after he returned home from work at a construction site. He has not seen his daughter for more than two years. “I let her be since she was focused on her work and had her own life and family.”
Mary Liza is survived by her four children and a live-in partner. Three of the children are living with her parents in Pangasinan and have yet to be told of their mother’s death.
Company, gov’t assistance
When Apostol and his 25-year-old son Mark arrived in Valenzuela and saw what’s left of the Kentex factory, he could easily tell from the rubble what his daughter went through. “Ang sakit sa kalooban. Torta na siya (It hurts deep inside. It was though she had been fried).”
His “hardworking” daughter had been employed in the factory since 2007. “We just didn’t expect this to happen to her,” Apostol said, unable to control his tears. He said he wants to bring his daughter’s remains back to Pangasinan once her body has been identified.
Local government officials said family members have the option to keep the remains in the cemetery or have them exhumed. If they choose the latter, City Hall will shoulder the cost of the exhumation and transport to the bodies’ final resting place.
In a phone interview with the Inquirer on Friday, Kentex company lawyer Renato Paraiso said the management would be extending financial assistance to the victims’ families.
Paraiso could not give a figure, but explained that the company’s immediate concern is to “address the families immediate needs such as the identification of the bodies, and medical and burial expenses.”
Cash aid, scholarships
Meanwhile, a Buddhist volunteer organization started visiting the homes of the grieving families in Valenzuela also on Friday. The Tzu Chi Foundation handed out assistance at P5,000 to P10,000 in cash per family, the Inquirer learned.
The group is set to visit the other families of the dead or injured who are residing in Caloocan, Malabon, Quezon City and Manila.
Tzu Chi is also prepared to grant scholarships to the victims’ children, according to its social service coordinator, Michael Siao.
One possible scholar is the eldest child of Elizabeth Banico, one of the workers who perished in the fire. The sole breadwinner of her family, Banico left behind her husband and four children.
“[Granting scholarships] is a big concern for us since families like the Banicos may now be thinking twice about sending their children to school. We can accommodate their children so they could finish their studies,” Siao said. Banico’s eldest child is an incoming senior marine engineering student at Dr. Carlos Lanting College, he noted.
“We will evaluate their situation and they can become part of our long-term assistance program and our cash-for-work program,” he added.
Before the home visits, Tzu Chi volunteers chanted prayers for the dead who were then at a funeral parlor in Barangay Maysan. “We just hope to bring some light and peace to the deceased so that their [next journey] would be peaceful,” Siao said.
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