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Bocaue remembers ‘Pagoda Tragedy’

BOCAUE, Bulacan—Relatives, friends and the Saint Martin of Tours Parish honored on Tuesday the 266 people who died in the pagoda tragedy that took place 20 years ago.

A 6 a.m. Mass was offered at the Saint Martin of Tours Church for the victims and at 6 p.m., along the riverbank in Barangay Bunlo, flower and candle offerings were held near the site where the pagoda sunk.

Fr. Jovi Sebastian, Saint Martin of Tours parish priest, led the prayer and blessings of the flowers and candles. As the flowers were thrown into the Bocaue River, the names of the victims were announced one by one.

The group then made a procession from the site to the parish church. A 30-minute power outage engulfed the town while the commemoration ceremony was being held.

“Even the heavens condoled with the victims,” Tita Coronel, an 80-year-old resident of Barangay Sulucan, said in Pilipino as the procession made its way toward the church.

A  serenata was conducted by the DYCI Brass Band, Banda 98, Banda 95, together with the DYCI Dance Troupe and different choirs from the parish and at exactly 8 p.m., the church bell rang until the roll call for the names of the victims was finished.

The festive mood for the nine-day fluvial novena that culminates on the first Sunday of July for the “Mahal na Poon ng Krus sa Wawa” was drastically changed to days of mourning for the Bocaueños and devotees of the Krus sa Wawa.

At 8:15 p.m. on July 2, 1993, tragedy struck the pagoda carrying the Holy Cross and an estimated 800-1,000 devotees as it started its fluvial procession along the stretch of the Bocaue River.

A total of 266 men, women and children onboard the pagoda drowned as it sank in the middle of the Bocaue River between barangays Bunlo and Bambang.

Witnesses claimed that a wayward sky rocket (kwitis) flying toward the direction of the pagoda forced many of the participants on board to transfer to one side; their collective weight tilted the structure. 

The devotees on board the pagoda panicked as the noise of crackling timber was heard as the pagoda structure collapsed and slowly sank to the bottom of the river.

Witnesses said fishermen watching on the riverbank launched their fishing bancas toward the sinking pagoda to save as many people as possible, but despite the efforts of the volunteer rescuers, many still drowned.

Witnesses also claimed that as the pagoda slowly sank, its power generator was still running and its lights were still on. Many believed that some of the fatalities died from electrocution.

Retrieval operations for the victims took several days.  The victims were first taken to different area hospitals where they were checked for vital signs. The bodies of the fatalities were then taken to the town plaza for identification, with the basketball court becoming an impromptu morgue.  The victims appeared to be whole families holding on to one another as the river water engulfed them.

There was also shortage of caskets at local funeral homes. Local officials appealed for casket donors so that the victims could be placed on them for burial.

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