MANILA — The "Christmas Miracle Boy" proved illusory, and the Philippines was left today with only a Christmas tragedy.
The story of a 5-year-old supposedly found floating alive on a piece of wood 36 hours after the Sunday sinking of the ferry Dona Paz and the tanker Victor, was denied by the fishermen who were reported to have found him.
It had been spread throughout these islands based on a local radio report. It was just a rumor that got out of hand, coast guard officials said.
The tale had lessened the gloom that fell over the Christmas celebrations of Asia's only Roman Catholic country when an estimated 2,000 poor people perished in the world's worst peacetime ship disaster.
A grim, ragtag cortege of jeeps, trucks and buses will be making the three-hour drive to Manila from the town of Batangas on Christmas Eve carrying 500 bodies, the coast guard said.
On and near the island of Mindoro, seamen, coast guardsmen and villagers expect to spend their holiday gathering the bodies washed up onto the beaches by each tide.
The coast guard said today that it has recovered 133 bodies off the shores of Mindoro.
Cargo hoists were used by two ships anchored off the village of Pinamalayan to bring in the grisly harvest of bodies.
Eight undertakers sent to Mindoro to help deal with the bodies were so moved by the sight of the mutilated remains of men, women and children that they held an impromptu prayer service on a beach.
Some Buried by Villagers
Some villagers were burying bodies where they found them because there were no coffins for the remains and no authorities were present to tell them otherwise.
When bodies began to arrive by ship down the pier from the offices of Sulpicio, the Dona Paz's owner, a stone was thrown through an office window. Manila newspapers have charged that the ship was grossly overloaded and said it will never be known exactly how many people died.
Capt. Melecio Baranco of the ferry Don Claudio, who had earlier brought in some of the 26 survivors of the disaster, said in an interview today that no distress call was ever heard from the Dona Paz or the Victor.
"No SOS call was made," he said. "We just took the initiative to come closer to see what had happened. We just presumed it was a ship on fire so we changed our course."