After 3 years, 300 ‘Sendong’ victims still unidentified

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/16 December) — Over 300 victims of tropical storm Sendong (international name: Washi) buried in unmarked graves here and in nearby Iligan City have remained unidentified despite DNA tests conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation medico-legal teams three years ago.

Dr. Tammy Uy, NBI Region 10 medico-legal chief said money to buy the chemicals to complete the identification process had run out in 2012 forcing the agency to stop matching the extracted DNA with  those of family members.

“We extracted the DNA from the bodily fluids of the cadavers, taken swabs from the family members but we cannot complete the matching with their family members. There is no more money for it,” Uy said.

Tropical storm Sendong inundated riverside communities in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities in the early morning of Dec. 17, 2011 killing some 1,100 residents and affecting around 660,000 families.

Three years after Sendong, the NBI has yet to issue a single death certificate for the unidentified bodies

STILL HOPING. Alma Beromoy, 36, holds the pictures of her  missing children in her house at the Sendong relocation site in Phase 1, Barangay Indahag, Cagayan de Oro City on Dec. 15, 2014. Beromoy  hopes DNA tests can bring closure to the fate of her five missing children who were washed away by flashfloods triggered by tropical storm Sendong on Dec. 17, 2011. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo
STILL HOPING. Alma Beromoy, 36, holds the pictures of her missing children in her house at the Sendong relocation site in Phase 1, Barangay Indahag, Cagayan de Oro City on Dec. 15, 2014. Beromoy hopes DNA tests can bring closure to the fate of her five missing children who were washed away by flashfloods triggered by tropical storm Sendong on Dec. 17, 2011. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

Uy said NBI Disaster Victims Identification (DVI) teams took DNA samples from 200 unidentified bodies in Cagayan de Oro and another 124 bodies in Iligan.

He said the bodies were buried in an unmarked vault in Bolonsori Public cemetery in Cagayan de Oro and in a cemetery in Iligan.

He said over 800 family members came to the NBI office in Cagayan de Oro to have their DNA taken by the NBI DVI teams.

Three years after, Uy said the money to complete the DNA tests ran out in 2012.

The official said the NBI and the courts would only declare a person dead through dental identification, fingerprints and DNA tests.

He said many families in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan are left in limbo not knowing whether their missing relatives are among the unidentified bodies.

“I really pity the families. There are no closures for many of them” Uy said.

Uy said around P25 million is needed to buy the chemicals to complete the matching process to identify the cadavers.

He said the NBI DVI office in Manila tried to get the money from the P200 million DNA test funds for typhoon Yolanda victims last year but did not continue because the Commission on Audit will not allow diversion of funds.

“If only someone or maybe the local government fork up the money and buy the chemicals. We will immediately complete the process,” he said.

In a small house at Phase 1, Sendong Relocation Center in Barangay Indahag, this city, Alma Beromoy, 36, and her neighbor, Jennilyn Anguis, 27, sat and talked about their missing children a day before the third anniversary of Sendong.

Beromoy lost all of her five children aged one to seven years, while Anguis also lost all of her three children—the youngest was just a 13-day baby – on that tragic night.

Both mothers went to the NBI office in Cagayan de Oro to have their DNA taken in the hope that the tests can identify their children among the bodies.

“It’s really difficult every time December 16 and 17 comes around. We simply cannot forget what happened to our children,” Anguis said.

Anguis said she went to the NBI office to have her DNA taken and hoped but three years later, no word about her lost children came.

“No word came, not even a whimper. We heard there was no more money,” she said.

“We could have moved on if we only knew what happened to our children. The tests could have done it,” Beromoy added.

Beromoy said she spent a tidy sum of money to submit documents and papers that the NBA required. Earning P200 a day selling rags, Beromoy said a lawyer even asked P900 from her for notary fees.

Anguis said she too incurred expenses when she went to the NBI and was asked some documents to prove her claim.

“We decided not to go to the NBI anymore because of these expenses,” she said. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)

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