Sisters Maricel Bo, 38, and Lorie Repia, 27, cried again in far-flung barangay Rawis, Libon, Albay, adding more of their teardrops to the shallow river that swelled and took their children’s lives a day after typhoon ‘Glenda’ ravaged Bicol region.
Bo’s third son Ramil Contreras, 8, and Repia’s eldest child Jason, 6, both drowned in the river July 16 during the wake of ‘Glenda’ when they were trying to cross towards their house after checking the chicken house that they were paid to look after.
Bo said the children were together when they disappeared during the early evening of July 16 while the skies were dark and rain was still pouring as ‘Glenda’ ravaged Central Luzon.
“They misjudged the depth of the river,” she said. “They both know how to swim but the river was deep and the water was murky. It was also moving fast because a dam upriver was opened.”
The sisters, both wives of tenant farmers, said they and their relatives began frantically searching for the children but the darkness prevented them from making any progress.
The children were found lifeless morning of the next day July 17 at the bottom of the river just a few meters away from their house by the riverside after cousins and uncles resumed the search, they said.
Repia and Bo said they received no help from their barangay officials when the children disappeared.
“We asked for help but they told us to wait until the next morning because it was too dark to search,” Repia said, remembering how they went out from their house which is around 25 meters away from the barangay main road in darkness to request for assistance.
She said they waited anxiously until the next day, knowing that there was little hope for them to find the children still alive.
Sonia Serrano, barangay councilor of Rawis, denied having instructed the parents to cancel the search for the children.
“They approached me in the morning of July 17 to help search for the kids. I even scolded them for waiting too long to ask for help,” she said.
She admitted that their barangay has no village hall and that she does not believe that the parents were able to speak to their barangay chairman Florian Briones whom she said was around during the onslaught of the typhoon in July 15 when ‘Glenda’ made landfall in Albay.
She said she instructed the parents to record the incident with the police in adjacent barangay Pantao on July 17 as a missing persons case before the bodies were found just before noon of the same day.
Bo admitted that they did not heed the authorities’ call for pre-emptive evacuation prior to arrival of the typhoon because they were used to riding out storms in their tiny house by the river.
They, however, were shocked by the strength that ‘Glenda’ showed.
Police in barangay Pantao recorded Repia and Bo’s plea for help from authorities. The record was transmitted to Libon Municipal Police Office at the town’s center where it was confirmed by Officer-in-Charge Senior Inspector Darwin Aspejo.
Aspejo said the municipal police and the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (MDRRMC) of Libon did not consider the deaths of the kids in Rawis as typhoon-related because of the time of death which was already a day after ‘Glenda’ visited Albay and Bicol.
He said the parents reported the children missing at 5 in the afternoon of July 16, almost 24 hours after ‘Glenda’ hit Albay at around 9 p.m. of July 15.
He added that assessment of the manner of death of the victims revealed it was not related to the typhoon and there was also negligence on the part of the parents, who should assume full responsibility of the minors, for allowing their children to swim in the river knowing that it was dangerous.
He said putting the blame on the typhoon for the swelling of the river is “illogical” because it is natural for rivers to swell with any rain, with or without a typhoon.
He said he also believes the dam located in Rawis does not have enough breadth to accommodate large amount of water to endanger the dwellers downstream when it is opened.
He said investigations done by police revealed that the children might have been attracted to swim in the river to gather the coconuts floating there that were dislodged by the typhoon the previous day.
He added that findings of the investigations revealed that their deaths should not even be classified to be caused by anything secondary to the effects of the typhoon like a landslide caused by eroding soil softened by rains or road accidents brought about by trees felled by the typhoon.
Libon Mayor John Dycoco confirmed that they did not count the children as typhoon casualties because their deaths were not related to ‘Glenda’ in any way.
He said the parents confessed during interrogations by the barangay captain Briones of Rawis that they asked the children to go out of the house to buy something from a store.
He also said that there was still afternoon light when the kids went out before they were reported missing.
He said they did not declare the deaths typhoon-related despite having been caused by the rise in water level in the river because there was obvious negligence on the part of the parents aside from the fact that it happened during the time ‘Glenda’ was already leaving the Philippine Area of Responsibility.
After clearing the case, he and the MDRRMC of Libon declared the town free of typhoon-related casualties which added to the declaration of ‘zero casualty’ in Albay by Governor Joey Salceda.
“If they had not asked the kids to go out and buy, it wouldn’t have happened. The river always has water because it is a river, people would drown there whether they know how to swim or not,” he said.
He explained that the irrigators’ association should not also be blamed for opening the gates of the dam because it is a standard procedure to open the gates during heavy rains to avoid flooding in other areas.
He also said the MDRRMC in Libon tried to encourage the dwellers in the riverside in Rawis to evacuate prior to the arrival of ‘Glenda’ but the residents themselves refused to leave their homes because it was quite sunny before the typhoon made landfall.
He said he believes the parents might be looking for someone to blame for their children’s deaths due to reasons he was not sure of.
He said the local government of Libon immediately gave assistance in the form of half a sack of rice each to the families of the children after the incident.
On the part of the barangay, councilor Serrano said she gave some money with the contribution of other officials to help with the burial of the children who were buried three days after.
Office of Civil Defense 5 Chief Raffy Alejandro said that the case in Libon did not reach his office.
He said the deaths were not certified by the local MDRRMC as typhoon-related casualties which might be because it did not reach the proper criteria.
He explained that for a death to be classified as typhoon-related despite having occurred after ‘Glenda’, the Department of Health (DOH) should be able to verify whether the manner of death was related to the typhoon.
He said that only the DOH has the power to verify the manner of death of the victim which will then be considered by the MDRRMC for inclusion in their reports.