Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Three UAE teachers killed in Philippines ferry tragedy, colleagues say

At least 31 died after three boats capsized in bad weather

Latest: Survivor calls for probe after doomed crossing declared safe

Three teachers from the UAE are among at least 31 people who died when ferries capsized in the Philippines, colleagues have said.

Two of the teachers worked at Al Ittihad National Private School in Al Ain while a third is a former employee who worked at another school, it is understood. Eight UAE-based teachers were on holiday together in the Philippines, their home country, when the disaster occurred on Saturday.

The death toll has risen from 26 to 31 people, after three boats capsized in the Iloilo-Guimaras Strait. Three people remain missing while 62 were rescued.

Andrew Valenzuela, 39, a teacher at Al Ittihad, was the first of the teachers to be confirmed dead.

They were hardworking and energetic, loved by their students

Voltaire Vizconde

Eden Perales, 37, who works at Al Ittihad, and Jaquelyn Alferez, 38, the former employee believed to have moved on to another UAE school, were initially declared missing but their bodies were discovered on Sunday morning. Another UAE-based teacher who was part of the group, Jeanette Montemayor, is in an intensive care unit.

One of the survivors, Mark Angelo Subaldo, told how he had escaped the underside of the capsized boat by removing a life jacket and swimming into open water. He then pulled Valenzuela and Ms Montemayor from the water, onto the hull.

He said the ferry had been allowed to depart, despite two others capsizing earlier in the day, after the coastguard gave the all-clear.

"It is very traumatic for all of us," he said. "My personal point of view is that the Philippine coastguard should be held responsible. Until now, no-one is responding from their side. We want them to explain to the bereaved families what happened, but nothing has happened. During the day of the tragedy, the moment that the coastguard said that it is safe to cross from Buenavista, Guimaras to Iloilo, everyone started rushing for the ferries because they wanted to leave the island.”

Voltaire Vizconde, another teacher at Al Ittihad who was not on the trip, said Perales and Alferez were "the best of friends".

"I am still in shock," Mr Vizconde said. "Praise God for sparing me, my wife and baby, as we decided not to join their Boracay trip."

Mr Vizconde and his wife had considered going on the holiday but decided against it because they have an infant child.

"All the Filipino teachers at the school are close with one another," Mr Vizconde said. "This was the first time for them to spend the summer holidays [together]."

Describing the three teachers who died, he said they were "hardworking and energetic, loved by their students".

Another staff member at Al Ittihad, who did not wish to be named, said they had also been told that the three missing teachers had died.

“It is sad news for us,” the staff member said.

The teachers on their holiday, before disaster struck. Andrew Valenzuela is on the left, next to Eden Perales. Jaquelyn Alferez is third from the right. The three died in the tragedy.
The teachers on their holiday, before disaster struck. Andrew Valenzuela, on the left, next to Eden Perales, front left, both died along with Jaquelyn Alferez, third from the right. Antoneth Canoy-Tolledo, Jaquelyn Alferez, Catherine Joy Santillan and Mark Angelo Subaldo survived.

The vessels Chichi, Keizha and Jenny overturned due to strong winds and waves, authorities said.

The teachers had gone on holiday together to Boracay, a small island known for its beautiful beaches. They had flown from across the Philippines to meet up in their summer break, with their holiday due to last between July 29 and August 5.

The inter-island ferries either turned over or sank in rough seas, wind and rain between Guimaras and Iloilo provinces, police said.

One of the ferry boats, Chichi, was carrying at least 42 passengers. Another boat, Keizha, reportedly had four or five crewmen on board, while the third ferry, Jenny, carried an unspecified number of people who were rescued and brought on board a coastguard ship.

All the crew members on the Keizha survived. The dead were passengers on the two other ferries.

Survivors recounted how the sky suddenly turned dark midway on their trip followed by strong wind and rain that battered their ferries.

Video from the ABS-CBN TV network showed a rescuer carrying a child from a motorboat to an ambulance in an Iloilo pier, where frantic relatives waited.

Forecasters have warned of heavy monsoon rains and thunderstorms amid a brewing storm about 875 kilometres off the country’s eastern coast.

Classes and work have been suspended in the Manila metropolis amid heavy rains and flooding, which caused heavy traffic jams on Friday in low-lying areas in the capital.

About 20 typhoons and storms batter the Philippines each year, making the archipelago that lies on the Pacific typhoon and earthquake belt one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world.

Updated: August 5, 2019 09:56 AM

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