Heirs of ‘Doña Paz’ tragedy victims receive P200,000 each from Caltex

TACLOBAN CITY—Heirs of the 4,000 people who died in the ill-fated MV Doña Paz received claims of more than P200,000 each based on a ruling of the Civil District Court in Orleans, Louisiana, in the United States.

The claimants received checks equivalent to $4,343 (P218,887 based on current exchange rate of $1: P50.40) each from representatives of Caltex International, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. and Metrobank at Tacloban Astrodome, Samar State University Gymnasium in Catbalogan City and at Asian Social Institute in Ermita, Manila, on March 4 and March 5. The third and last batches of checks released took place on March 11 and March 12.

Lawyer Leo Giron, president of Integrated Bar of the Philippines in Leyte, said the decision was a result of an amicable settlement between Caltex International and the heirs represented by their American lawyers in a class-action lawsuit.

Giron, who has been assisting the claimants since 1991, said the ruling was an “equitable decision” and will put a closure to this long-drawn case.

“It may not be enough after a very long wait but still equitable because at least the families could get an indemnification,” he told BusinessMirror in an interview.

“The amount may be small, but there should be a closure to this, otherwise, you will go on a trial again. Many of the claimants have already died waiting for this decision.”

Caltex Philippines was the shipper of 1 million liters of gasoline and other petroleum products aboard MT Vector when it collided with the 2,250-ton MV Doña Paz while sailing along the shark-infested Tablas Strait between Marinduque and Oriental Mindoro on its way to Manila from Tacloban City on December 20, 1987.

Giron said that, while Caltex International was not a direct party to the tragedy, it decided to indemnify families of the victims of the tragedy out of humanitarian reasons.

“Caltex was more equitable because the blame could have been either on MT Vector or MV Doña Paz,” the lawyer said.

“There must be closure to everything. It may not be substantial insofar as claimants are concerned but, nonetheless, they can be satisfied in their own little way. What is important is we put a closure to the issue, unlike in other cases that are still open ended that remains without justice,” Giron said.

The collision of MT Vector and MV Doña Paz is considered the worst maritime disaster in the postwar era. While there is no final count as to the number of people who died in the tragedy, MV Doña Paz was found to be carrying over 4,000 passengers and 60 crew members when the collision happened, way above the 1,493 passengers and 53-member crew listed in the ship’s manifest.

In an investigation that concluded 10 years after the tragedy, it was found that only 26 survived the collision, two from MT Vector and 24 passengers of MV Doña Paz .

Then-President Corazon C. Aquino described the incident as a “national tragedy of harrowing proportions”.

One of the passengers who perished was a young bank accountant, Teodulfo Ampong Sr. of Oras, Eastern Samar. He was supposed to attend a conference at the Central Bank of the Philippines’s head office. He left his widow with seven children to support, three were studying in college then, two in high school and two in the elementary grades.

“We have already moved on and accepted that it was an accident,” said his widow Herminia, now a retired school teacher. “It was difficult raising my children all by myself. But all of them were able to finish schooling and are professionals now.”

“We were no longer expecting any compensation since it has been almost 30 years,” she said. “I am just thankful we were able to claim because this will help me as a retiree.”

Long before Tacloban City became accessible by bus through a roll-in, roll-off boat plying Matnog, Sorsogon, and Allen, Northern Samar, travel by boat was the cheapest means of transportation going to Manila.

At the time the tragedy happened, two shipping companies were operating on the Tacloban-Manila route, Sulpicio Lines, which operated MV Doña Paz, and William Lines.

A year after the tragedy on October 24, 1988, another boat of Sulpicio Lines, MV Doña Marilyn, sank when it was caught up by Typhoon Unsang while traveling from Manila to Tacloban, leaving 389 dead with only 147 survivors.

MV Doña Paz was originally named Himeyuri Maru built in 1963 in Hiroshima, Japan. After a few years of service, it was bought by Sulpicio Lines and was named MV Don Sulpicio.

On June 5, 1979, MV Don Sulpicio was gutted by a fire and all its 1,164 passengers were saved, but the ship was declared a total loss. But instead of being put to wreck, the ship was repaired, refurbished and launched as MV Doña Paz in 1981. The ship ran smoothly until the fatal collision with MT Vector.




Image Credits: Elmer Recuerdo

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