Elpidio Barzaga Jr

Barzaga: Heads must roll for Basilan ferry fire

March 31, 2023 People's Tonight 227 views

SOMEONE should be held accountable for the deaths of the 29 passengers of MV Lady Mary Joy 3, which caught fire late Wednesday evening off the waters of Basilan, according to Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga Jr.

“Have we not learned anything?” said the lawmaker. “What is MARINA and the Philippine Coast Guard doing now? Those who have been negligent should be held accountable for this accident because it could have been avoided if only they did their jobs.”

Deputy Minority Leader and Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman lamented the incident and expressed condolences to the loved ones of the victims.

“We express our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the passengers that perished during a fire that hit a passenger vessel off the waters of Basilan,” Hataman said.

“Nakapagpaabot na tayo mula sa ating tanggapan ng tulong pinansyal na P3,000 sa 68 na survivor ng trahedya. At sa pakikipag-ugnayan ng ating tanggapan sa DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development), nabigyan pa ng karagdagang P2,000 ang bawat biktima na sana ay makatulong sa mga gastusin nila sa kasalukuyan,” Hataman said.

“Nakikipag-usap din kami sa mga otoridad at mga opisyal ng lokal na pamahalaan upang siyasatin kung ano ang puwede nating gawin para maiwasan ang ganitong klaseng aksidente. Sa ngayon, inaalam pa natin mula sa mga ahensya tulad ng DSWD at ng mga lokal na pamahalaan sa Basilan kung anong tulong ang maaari pang ibigay sa mga biktima ng insidenteng ito,” Hataman added.

Barzaga said the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) should explain if the vessel was again “overloaded” since such has always been the case in previous maritime accidents.

He said he can still distinctly remember the 2008 investigation of the House Committee on Transportation into the sinking of MV Princess of the Stars, which claimed the lives of over 800 people, “and now, this tragedy in Basilan happened.”

The enactment into law of the Maritime Code measure was among the transportation panel’s recommendations after its inquiry into the 2008 maritime tragedy, the passenger ferry owned by Filipino shipping company Sulpicio Lines, that sank on June 21, 2008, off the coast of San Fernando, Romblon, at the height of Typhoon “Frank.”

“What is the Coast Guard doing? If there were so many passengers, did they not check if the vessel was overloaded? Secondly, is there already an action to stop the shipping line from operating its other ferries on account of this incident?” Barzaga said.

Mayor Arsina Kahing-Nanoh of Hadji Muhtamad, Basilan has said the ferry’s manifest was “inaccurate,” which made it difficult for authorities to conduct search, rescue, and retrieval operations.

She said the Coast Guard’s record showed there were only 205 passengers. However, 195 people were already rescued, excluding the number of those who died, which means that the figures do not match.

Barzaga also lamented that the latest maritime incident happened in the wake of the sinking of motor tanker (MT) Princess Empress last February 28 in the waters off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, which spilled 800,000 liters of industrialized fuel.

“We haven’t even recovered yet from the oil spill incident and now, this happened. Here we go again,” said the senior lawmaker who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Authorities are still looking into reports that the fire started from an air conditioning unit of the MV Lady Mary Joy 3, which was en route to Jolo, Sulu, from Zamboanga City last March 29 when it caught fire at around 10:40 p.m.