'Help us identify 3,000 dead from Yolanda,' Tacloban appeals

Arlene Burgos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 31 2018 10:54 AM | Updated as of Oct 31 2018 11:39 AM

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines - Five years after the catastrophic Yolanda (Haiyan) typhoon, this city is calling out for help in identifying thousands of its dead.

The appeal was made by Vice Mayor Jerry Yaokasin days before people start flocking to cemeteries here to remember their dead November 1, the fifth Undas since Yolanda struck and made landfall Nov. 8, 2013.

"Hopefully, the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) would do something, hopefully as we commemorate the fifth year, sana may partial list naman lang... Until now, for many families, walang closure eh. Kasi alam naman nila that the mass grave, beneath the white wooden crosses, it's not the remains of their loved ones eh," Yaokasin said.

Viola Coquilla shields herself from the afternoon sun as she prays for her departed relatives at the Holy Cross Memorial Park mass grave in Tacloban City October 30, 2018, nearly five years after Yolanda struck. Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Yaokasin said he brought up the issue of having to identify the remains of about 3,000 who perished during Yolanda when NBI visited Tacloban months back.

He cited cases of Yolanda survivors appealing to the local government for help, citing the need for proper burial and emotional closure.

But identifying each of the skeletal remains by DNA matching with a living relative’s saliva sample would cost P20,000. At 3,000 skeletal remains, this is money that the NBI does not have, Yaokasin said.

"I said [to NBI] kahit hanapan mo kami nang kaunti, kasi magpa-5 years na kami. So even a partial list [of identified remains]," he said.

What the NBI is pushing as a solution is the enactment of a law to mandate use of dental records for identification of remains.

"Dapat magpasa ng law wherein dapat dental records ang basis natin, the entire Philippines, that everyone should submit their dental records so the NBI will be the repository of that dental record of each citizen because when there are disasters like Yolanda, it will be very easy to identify the remains," he said about the NBI suggestion.

UNMARKED PLOTS

A woman marks a plot with her departed loved one's name at the Holy Cross Memorial Park mass grave in Tacloban City on October 30, 2018, nearing five years after Yolanda struck. Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

About 3,000 people who have perished have yet to be identified, preventing their relatives from giving them proper burial, having to content themselves with a mass grave of white wooden crosses on unmarked plots. But claims being made before the civil defense office for financial assistance reveal there could be more.

Many do not know where their dead actually lay on a 1.2-hectare property bought by the Tacloban city government in the Holy Cross Memorial Garden in Barangay Basper here in 2014. Back then, 2,764 plots have been contracted for both the identified and unidentified casualties of Yolanda.

Four years ago, local authorities tried to assuage the bereaved with the promise that each of the crosses would soon have a number corresponding to the identity of the deceased, supposedly resulting from DNA tests to be performed on bodies found after the Nov. 8, 2013 tragedy.

Yaokasin said these relatives had their saliva samples taken by the NBI back then. Unfortunately, absence of funds made it impossible for the NBI to do DNA matching with skeletal remains.

APPLICATION FOR FINANCIAL AID

There are about 5,000 claims for financial assistance for missing relatives this year, as their loved ones go missing for four years since Yolanda, the local civil defense office said.

Four years after a person has gone missing, relatives may already apply for financial assistance of P10,000, assuming their kin is dead.

The civil defense office started receiving claims for aid in 2014, requiring a death certificate to prove the loss. They have yet to sum up total aid applications to date.

Receipt of filing for injury claims of P5,000 per person ended February 2018.