MANILA (UPDATED) - They left the comforts of their homes on Sunday to save people stranded by floods brought by super typhoon Karding.
Now, the 5 veteran rescuers -- George Agustin, Troy Justin Agustin, Marby Bartolome, Jerson Resurreccion, Narciso Calayag -- are no longer coming home.
The emergency responders in Bulacan sacrificed their lives to fulfill their mission, the province’s governor said Monday.
“Sa ngalan ng lalawigan ng Bulacan, ako ay taus-pusong nagpapasalamat at ikinararangal ang kanilang ipinamalas na kabayanihan at matapat na pagtupad sa kanilang tungkulin, sukdulang isakripisyo ang kanilang sariling buhay,” Gov. Daniel Fernando said in a statement.
(In behalf of the entire province of Bulacan, I sincerely thank and honor them for their heroism and faithfulness to their mission, they even sacrificed their owned lives.)
“Kulang ang mga salita upang ipahayag ang aking kalungkutan sa naganap na trahedya sa ating mga kasamang rescuers ng Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office,” he added.
(Words are not enough to express my grief over the tragedy that beset our rescuers here in the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.)
The rescuers, who came from different towns in Bulacan, were preparing life boats while conducting rescue operations around midnight of Sunday in San Miguel town when a flash flood struck them, Vice Governor Alex Castro said in a separate statement.
“Sa kanilang paghahanda ng life boats ay rumagasa ang flash flood sa kanilang lokasyon na nagpaguho ng isang pader at siyang dahilan ng pagdaloy ng tubig baha na umanod sa ating mga rescuers,” Castro said of the five whom he called “real heroes.”
They were found dead in Sitio Banga, Barangay Kamias at around 4 a.m. Monday, the provincial government said.
Bulacan’s PDRRMO Chief Liz Mungcal, who's used to facing reporters to provide updates, broke down after announcing the demise of the rescuers, her colleagues-turned-family.
The actual cause of the rescuers’ death is being determined, with an autopsy underway. Their remains were brought to the Glory to God Funeral Services in San Miguel.
All benefits intended for the victims from the provincial government will be given to their respective families, Fernando said.
He will also provide personal financial assistance and settle the funeral arrangements, the provincial government said.
Castro, for his part, said it is only proper for the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to formally recognize the heroism of the five.
Dante Sheperd, the team leader of the fallen rescuers, said they did not expect the incident to happen, considering that all were veteran rescuers.
"Kami po dito mga Bulacan Rescue, sanay na sanay po kami sa tubig kasi kami po ay ipinanganak din dito eh, kaya ‘yun, ‘yung time na ‘yun ay kasagsagan na ‘yun, sabi ng boss namin, o bakit wala pang report, kaya nagpadeploy na ng isa pang team," he told Teleradyo.
(We here in Bulacan Rescue, we are used to flooding because we were born and raised here, so at that time, during the onslaught of the typhoon, our boss were wondering why there were no updates, and he deployed another team.)
He said the group went out in response to a report that some residents needed help.
"Kasagsagan po, around 1 to 2 a.m. po, kasagsagan po ng bagyo, sa pagtawid po dito sa central Luzon. Siyempre may mga nai-report po sa kanila na naipit po, mga kailangang ilikas na mga kababayan po, so siyempre trabaho po ng tropa. ‘Yun, hindi na rin inaasahan ‘yung trahedya," Sheperd said.
(It was the peak of the typhoon, around 1 to 2 am, while the typhoon was crossing central Luzon. There were reports that some residents were stranded, they need to be evacuated, so they set out to do their job. The tragedy that followed was unexpected.)
For Sheperd, nobody wanted the tragedy to happen so it is pointless to blame others.
"Unexpected din po, tumaob din po ‘yung bangka nila. Sabi nga po namin, hindi na kailangang pang magsisihan or something na magkaroon ng haka haka, kasi siyempre, in the part, bilang kasamahan ko, masakit para sa amin ‘yun kasi ginawa naman namin ‘yung best para sa bayan," he said.
(It was unexpected, their boat capsized. We said, there's no need to point fingers, or to speculate, because for us, as their fellow rescuers, it hurts us, because we did our best for the country.)
"Siguro hanggang doon na lang talaga sila, masakit man sa dila, pero salute ako sa mga kasamahan ko, with all my heart," Sheperd added.
(Maybe it was really their time, it might be painful to hear, but I salute them with all my heart.)
SAN MIGUEL MAYOR PUSHES FOR PROTECTION OF MOUNTAINS
San Miguel, Bulacan Mayor Roderick Tiongson, for his part, said this is the worst flooding they have ever experienced.
He believes it was due to the quarrying in the mountains, as can be seen from the muddy water that inundated his town.
"Dahil ‘yan po nagiging sanhi ng baha. Makikita niyo po kapag bumabaha po, halos chocolate na po ‘yung mga tubig. Talagang makikita niyo na galing sa taas ng Sierra Madre ‘yan, ng kabundukan," Tiongson said.
(Quarrying causes flooding. You can see it when it floods, the water is muddy. You can really see that the water comes from the Sierra Madre, from the mountains.)
"At ito po ang makasaysayan na pinakamalaki ang baha sa aming bayan na hindi nila inaasahan. Marami na ang nagtaas ng kanilang mga istruktura, itinaas ang kanilang mga bahay, negosyo, naabot pa rin," he added.
(This is the worst flooding we experienced, and we did not expect it. A lot of the residents already raised their houses, their businesses, but were still flooded.)
Tiongson urged the public to protect upland areas and stop quarrying activities.
"'Yun po ang hinihiling ko po, hinihiling namin ni Gobernador Daniel Fernando…na kung pwede po ay ‘wag sirain ang kabundukan natin," he said.
(That is what I am asking for, what I and Governor Daniel Fernando are asking for...if possible, let us not destroy the mountains.)
In San Miguel town alone, 47 out of its 49 barangays were affected by floods.
A total of 5,239 people in the province were forced to leave their homes and take shelter in evacuation centers due to Karding, according to the provincial government.
As of Monday afternoon, 17 evacuation centers in the province are catering to 1,571 families including 1,447 children and 231 senior citizens, based on information provided by provincial Social Welfare and Development Office Head Rowena Tiongson.
Vice President Sara Duterte, in a statement, offered her condolences to the families of the victims, as she assured the public that the government is on top of the situation.
"My thoughts and prayers are with the people affected by Typhoon Karding in Luzon. May I also offer my deepest condolences to the families of those who died during the onslaught of the typhoon," she said.
"The administration of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr is on top of the situation — with coordination between concerned national agencies and local government units done to ensure immediate response and efficient delivery of relief services to the people affected by Karding," Duterte added.
- With reports from Katrina Domingo and Jeff Canoy, ABS-CBN News