MANILA, Philippines - Gloomy skies loomed over Metro Manila on the eve of the third anniversary of the MV Princess of the Stars tragedy.
At the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) in Quezon City, running priest Fr. Robert Reyes celebrated mass with the family of the victims, many of whom have yet to recover the remains of their loved ones.
The MV Princess of the Stars capsized on June 21, 2008 off the coast of Sibuyan Island in Romblon after being battered by Typhoon Frank.
Of the 860 listed passengers, only 52 survived.
A total of 312 bodies have been recovered, with the rest declared missing and presumed dead.
The MV Princess of the Stars was owned by Sulpicio Lines Incorporated (SLI). At the time of her sinking, she was the largest passenger ship in the Philippines.
PAO Chief Persida Acosta says recovering and identifying the remains of the victims has been a long, tedious, and challenging process.
Although the PAO Forensics Team is capable of extracting the required biometrics, Acosta says there is a lack of data for comparative analysis.
PAO has exhumed and recovered 140 skeletal remains. So far, only 6 have been positively identified and turned over to their relatives.
Acosta says she is disappointed that the previous leadership of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), and Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) seemingly exerted little effort in retrieving the hundreds of remains that presumably remain in the sunken vessel.
"Nagdeclare na sila na wala nang bangkay dun sa barko, kinain na raw yun ng mga pating. Eh nung nagpunta kami dun, we recovered no less than 101 skeletal remains," says Acosta. "Ang dagat ay hindi tamang libingan ng mga tao".
Acosta says they filed a case against NBI medical doctor Renato Bautista for suppression of evidence, after the latter refused to hand over information that could help identify more of the victims.
Acosta also scored the Marina for allowing Sulpicio Lines Incorportated to change its name to Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation (PSACC) despite facing multiple cases in court.
PSACC has an infamous record of maritime safety. Its other vessels involved in sea disasters include the MV Doña Paz (1987), the MV Doña Marilyn (1988), and the MV Princess of the Orient (1998).
More than 4,000 people died in the MV Doña Paz tragedy alone.
A criminal case against former SLI Vice President Edgar Go and MV Princess of the Stars Captain Florencio Marimon (at large) is still pending before Branch 5 of the Manila Regional Trial Court.
SLI is also facing a total of 135 civil cases in Manila and Cebu City.