MANILA — Thousands of people whose relatives were victims of the doomed Philippine passenger liner Dona Paz rallied in a downtown Manila park Saturday appealing for government help in collecting compensation and retrieving bodies of the dead.
More than 1,600 people died when the oil tanker Victor rammed the Dona Paz last Sunday, causing both vessels to sink after a fiery explosion. Only 26 survivors were found.
The manifest for the Dona Paz listed 1,532 passengers and 58 crew members, but the coast guard has said that at least 100 more people boarded just before the ship sailed from Tacloban, on the central island of Leyte.
Several in the crowd of 3,000 sobbing, anxious people in the park said their relatives' names were not on the manifest, raising fears that they will not be able to collect insurance or a share of any settlement.
'I Want Compensation'
"I am here because I want compensation for the dead, so that even if we don't see the bodies, we can have a Mass said for them," said Rolando Lamsin, 27, who lost his daughter, son and sister in the disaster.
The coast guard, correcting earlier figures, said late Saturday that only 133 bodies had been recovered, not 292 as had been reported. It said some bodies apparently were counted more than once.
Officials said 85 bodies were laid out for viewing. But relatives could identify only 35 because of damage and deterioration from the sea and the oil-fed fire that sent both ships to the bottom of the 1,750-foot-deep Tablas Strait.
"I just want to see my son," said Gregoria Aban, who lost a sister and her only son in the tragedy. "I want to see the body and to have justice given to him. Even if his name is not in the manifest, I want to receive at least the insurance money."
Rally organizer Boboy Equipaje, who lost three family members, circulated forms to try to determine how many people were on the Dona Paz but were not listed on the manifest. Many people have evidence, such as a telegram from relatives saying they were taking the ship, he said.
"What we are doing is making an inventory of the passengers and organizing a task force and looking for a government agency that will coordinate with us," he said, complaining that so far the government is "doing nothing" for the families.
Equipaje said there had been no talk so far about filing a joint lawsuit against owners of the liner or the Victor, which struck the Dona Paz amidships in the dark.
"The basic problem right now is to recover the bodies," he said. The coast guard has admitted it does not have the necessary equipment to reach the depths where an unknown number of bodies remain trapped in the wreck, Equipaje said.
Equipaje said he plans to see how quickly the government responds to the group's appeal before organizing a mass march to Malacanang Palace, where the group hopes to discuss its problems with President Corazon Aquino.
Officials have scheduled a formal inquiry into the crash starting Monday. The panel is expected to hear from owners of the two ships, coast guard officers and some of the 26 survivors.
The coast guard is expected to produce a still-unidentified witness who says he saw the captain in his cabin and two mates on the main deck drinking beer shortly before the collision. Only an apprentice mate was on the bridge at the time, the survivor said. The shipping company disputes that account.