Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Teachers bear brunt of Philippines ferry tragedy

Eight teachers - including three UAE-based Filipinos - are known to have died

The group of UAE-based teachers on their holiday, before disaster struck. 
The group of UAE-based teachers on their holiday, before disaster struck. 

A second group of teachers were caught up in the Philippines ferry tragedy that devastated a school community in Al Ain, it has emerged.

Andrew Valenzuela, 39, and Eden Perales, 37, who worked at Al Ittihad National Private School in Al Ain, and Jaquelyn Alferez, 38, a former staff member, died when a ferry capsized in the Philippines on Saturday.

They were among a group of eight UAE-based teachers who had met up for a summer holiday in their home country. Five survived but, one, Jeanette Montemayor, remained in an intensive care unit on Monday.

Five other teachers, who taught in the Philippines, also died when three ferries capsized in strong winds, reports in the Filipino media have since revealed.

They were all graduates of Guimaras State University and were crossing to Iloilo to complete paperwork.

It means almost a third of those killed on the Guimaras to Iloilo crossings were teachers. Authorities said on Sunday that 31 people had died but, the Philippine Coast Guard said on Monday that the total was 28, although some remain missing.

A friend of Alferez, who moved to another school in the UAE after leaving Al Ittihad, told The National that Alferez told her she was looking forward to meeting up with her friends in Boracay, the last time they spoke. The group travelled to Guimaras Island as part of their holiday.

“She mentioned that they will go to Boracay, the famous beach resort in the Philippines,” Jean Paran Asma, a teacher at Greenwood International School in Dubai, said. “She was super excited.”

The pair met when they worked together in Qatar, as science teachers, with Alferez taking a job in the UAE in around 2011. Ms Asma, who is also originally from the Philippines, then followed her to the Emirates.

“I was watching the news about [the ferry disaster] but I had no idea that she was one of the victims because I didn’t know about the Guimaras trip,” Ms Asma said. “Then one of our friends who is now based in Egypt sent me a message.

“Jaquelyn always had a smile for anyone. She never had any conflict with anyone. She would always look on a positive side of every situation. She had a good heart. She was very dedicated and always showed compassion with her students.”

Managers at Al Ittihad school have been in contact with surviving staff members in the Philippines to offer support. The Philippines Embassy and UAE government are also aware of the situation and are looking at ways to help.

It is expected that Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, will visit the site of the disaster in the coming days. The accident has sparked calls for improved regulations for ferry crossings in the country, which has a poor record for ferry safety.

The have also been questions about why the boat carrying the UAE-based teachers was allowed to set off. The two other ferries had capsized about three hours earlier, causing crossings to be suspended.

However, the route was reopened minutes before the third ferry capsized causing further loss of life, witnesses said.

“I think whoever is responsible for securing the folks during storms should exercise more prudence, caution, and should give the people more guidelines relative to facing this kind of disaster,” Salvador Panelo, a spokesman for Mr Duterte, said in a briefing.

A visit from Mr Duterte was “probable” in coming days, he said.

The office of the president has directed “all concerned departments and agencies including the Philippine Coast Guard, the Maritime Industry Authority and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, to provide immediate assistance to the victims of this tragedy,” Mr Panelo said.

Updated: August 6, 2019 09:49 AM

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