MANILA, Philippines ? Franco Eugenio, 3, and Anton Eugenio Cruz, 2, slept soundly, cradled in the arms of their yaya (nanny) Tessie and yaya Bambi respectively, as the Commando 6 ploughed its way through choppy waters.
It seemed like a perfect day for everyone on board the vessel. Many of the passengers were families, like the Eugenios who were looking forward to spending time together as they ventured on their first outing as a clan.
Ramon, Franco?s father, sat beside his parents, Franklin and Daisy, while Ramon?s wife Monique sat beside him, and beside her were the children and their yayas. Near the front of the boat sat Ramon?s younger brother, Carl, his wife, and their two children.
From the beginning of the trip, Monique said she had felt antsy about the trip. ?I was counting the passengers as they got on board, checked for the safety of the boat. I kept looking around and asked the barker if the waters were going to be calm that day.?
Monique counted 40 passengers that sat across her, in a boat that the Coast Guard would ascertain later in an Inquirer news report was only allowed to carry 42 passengers and five crew members.
?There was just something unsettling about the trip?? Monique adds, ?and the ferry?s engine would shut off every time big waves would hit it.?
And then, after about 45 minutes, approximately 20 minutes away from their destination, the passengers heard a loud crack, and the boat keeled over and flipped.
?It was your worst nightmare,? Monique relates. ?The bags and the children? everyone just started to slip and then the boat just filled up with water?. Franco?s yaya had tried to hold on to him for dear life as they both sank but the waters were rushing like mad. Still she managed to grab onto a portion of his shirt, until the sheer weight of the water and her need for oxygen forced her to let go of his shirt.
Monique, on the other hand, was able to pull out Anton from the sinking boat, but it seemed like it was too late for the one-and-half-year-old toddler. Meanwhile, someone else had managed to fish Franco?s older brother, Paolo, 9, out of the waters and placed him on top of the boat.
The unidentified man, also a passenger of the boat, kept Paolo company until his mother and father could get to him. On the other side of the boat, Ramon had been trying to save his mother, Daisy, but to no avail.
The rescue boats came after 40 agonizing minutes. Franco?s yaya told this writer that if the rescue boats had come a few minutes later, they would all have been goners.
?The boat had already begun to sink by the time they arrived,? Monique says. Worse, as Ramon narrated in an Inquirer story recently, two boats had passed them by, he had taken off his shirt and waved frantically at them, but the boats did not bother to stop.
What have we come to as a people? Have we become so callous that we don?t help fellow human beings in need? How could those two boats have gone on their journey, having seen the sinking boat and knowing that so many lives were at stake?
And the people on those two boats even had the temerity to take photos and videos of the sinking ferry. I wonder what those people on the boat must be feeling now, knowing they have the blood of three innocent children and nine adults on their hands?
Many questions beg to be answered. Why have we not learned from the countless tragedies in the past of overloaded vessels, of the total disregard for life and safety? Who regulates the maintenance of the ferries that leave the Batangas port? What safety measures have been implemented after these sea mishaps? How many more lives do we need to lose before we learn our lessons?
Last night, at the wake, a pall of gloom and sadness filled the church as a grandmother and her two grandsons lay in state, one on each side of her. Daisy, a wonderful and caring wife, mother and grandmother, lay in eternal slumber. Franco and Anton, with their favorite toys?bright-colored cars?in their tiny, chubby fingers, looked like they were only sleeping, with smiles on their faces.
One must find consolation and strength in knowing that the boys were not able to feel any pain as they fell into the water, that the Father had safely picked them up and brought them to the shores of heaven, where they now live for all eternity.
Today, as the Eugenios bury, not one, but three family members, we who are left behind mourn their loss, and can only pray that in the wake of this tragedy, a greater meaning to their loss will be found, and that measures to prevent future tragedies from happening will finally be implemented.
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