NEW BATAAN, Compostela Valley (MindaNews/15 January) – The forensics team of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has returned here to get DNA samplings from the exhumed remains of unidentified victims who perished during typhoon Pablo on December 4.
At the public cemetery in Purok 4, Barangay Cabinuangan on Monday afternoon, MindaNews saw a team of the NBI’s Disaster Victim Identification (DVI), working on the remains exhumed from the niches and compartments that were temporarily sealed as of December 26.
Nearby, funeral parlor attendants sprayed disinfectants on the white caskets and body bags containing the remains.
A total of 384 bodies had been buried as of December 26. But the municipality’s records showed 426 “bodies found.” As of January 15, the number of “bodies found” had reached 437, Marlon Esperanza, information officer, said.
Esperanza acknowledged on December 27 that the figures do not tally. A total of 426 bodies were supposed to have been found, according to the Incident Command Center’s listing but only a total of 384 had been buried as of December 26, with the supposed remaining 42 bodies unaccounted for. .
He explained they were still validating the list. But he noted that some relatives apparently claimed to have identified their loved ones from among the remains just so they could secure death certificates. Death certificates are required to avail of government’s P10,000 financial assistance for each slain relative, or to claim insurance.
Relatives of those who died had repeatedly asked them when the NBI would come to take their DNA samples, Esperanza said.
Bernardita Pebujot, municipal sanitary inspector, told MindaNews on Monday that the NBI team informed them they would finish the sample-taking at the cemetery in three days.
Pebujot said the team finished taking samples from 60 remains on Monday. At least 269 remains awaited exhumation for tissue sampling as of December 26.
Tissue sampling from the surviving relatives will be done in the municipal gym after the NBI is done with the cemetery samplings, she said.
New Bataan had the highest death toll of all the towns along Pablo’s path across Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon: some 400 out of at least 1,000 dead.
To commemorate the 40th day of their death, memorial walls were erected in two areas: at a makeshift shed outside the San Antonio de Padua parish on Sunday and a concrete wall at the former site of the barangay hall in Andap on Monday.
Fr. Edgar Tuling, parish priest, blessed the white streamer cloth containing the names of those who perished, shortly before the 8:30 a.m. mass on Sunday. Relatives lit candles and offered flowers in their memory.
A total of 527 names were listed but the list soon bore erasures and additions. As it turned out, some of those listed dead were actually alive while some of those who were killed were not listed.
Luciana Ditros, 53 of Purok 14, San Juan Village in Andap, told MindaNews her name was included among the dead but her slain husband, Pabian, 57, was not on the list. She said they borrowed the black pen marker used in writing the names, added Pabian, and struck lines across her name and her nine-year old nephew’s, Judito Chris Salopan, who was riding the motorcycle with his father on this Sunday morning.
Aside from Pabian, Salopan’s mother, Epifania and cousin Princess May Conate, 12, were also killed.
At the memorial wall in Andap at least 569 names of the dead and missing were handpainted. But before it was unveiled Monday morning, relatives and neighbors requested sign artists to delete the names of survivors and add the names of those who were slain but were not listed.
As of 1 p.m. Monday, 25 names had been deleted from the church memorial wall while 11 other names were added.
Tuling said it is good that relatives or neighbors are making the corrections – whether on delisting the name of a survivor, adding the name of a slain relative or correcting the spelling of names.
In Andap, two residents told the sign artist early Monday to change the spelling of Tulio to Julio.
There may be more misspelled names on the list but there may be no chance to make the corrections. In both memorial walls, most of the victims had the same family names, among them Abonero. Pontijon. Magbutong. Rebucas. Babag. Canillo. Unselagan. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)