By Nef Luczon and Jigger Jerusalem
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY: The mother of one of the fallen soldiers of the ill-fated C-130 plane crash said a younger son would still want to join the Army despite the tragedy.
“But I pleaded him not to continue and we will just stay put as a family,” Vilma Monera said on Wednesday, as she waited for the arrival of the casket carrying her eldest son, Pvt. Vic Monera, 24.
As a parent, Vilma said she is proud that her son Vic finished college to be a seaman. But the pandemic prompted him to join the Army after he was called for training in November 2020.
She said Vic has done more than enough while waiting to be called for training by helping the family in farming at their hometown Maramag, Bukidnon. He wanted to help in sending two other siblings to school.
Monera was one of the first six fallen soldiers who arrived in the city on Wednesday.
Maj. Francisco Garello Jr., newly installed spokesperson of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division (4ID), said a C-259 aircraft brought the six remains from Sulu to the Lumbia airport in Barangay Lumbia, where they received traditional military honors.
Soldiers of the 4ID band greeted the remains of their colleagues lined up at the airfield’s runway where top officials from the Army, police, and Philippine Air Force gave a salute to each of the caskets.
The caskets were then ferried to the 4ID mortuary at Camp Evangelista, Barangay Patag, this city, so the bodies could be transferred to Philippine flag-draped coffins that were later brought to the camp’s gymnasium where families and loved ones were waiting.
Aside from Monera, Garello identified the other five soldiers as Sgt. Butch Maestro, a resident of Balingoan, Misamis Oriental; Pvt. Raymar Carmona of Agusan del Norte; Pvt. Mel Mark Angana of Malaybalay City; Pvt. Mark Nash Lumanta of Maramag, Bukidnon; and Pvt. Marcerlino Alquisar of Impasug-ong, Bukidnon.
He said 19 soldiers were from the Northern Mindanao and Caraga regions that are under the jurisdiction of the 4ID, adding that authorities are still in the process of determining their identities.
Garello said they are still awaiting the arrival of the second batch of remains.
Meanwhile, Asuncion Bacolbacol, the stepmother of Alquisar, said their last conversation with Alquisar was on July 3, a few hours before the soldiers’ scheduled flight to Sulu.
“He was telling me that they are getting ready to go on Saturday, but their flight was moved to Sunday as the C-130 had some malfunction. I have not heard from him since. The next thing we know, the tragedy happened,” she said.
Bacolbacol said it was Alquisar’s dream to become a soldier and he willingly took his chances and on the third attempt, he was finally enlisted in the Army.
“He really achieved his dream of becoming a soldier, but it was just so sad that he died,” she added.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday clarified that the number of soldiers who perished in the crash of the C-130 cargo plane stands at 49. The three others were civilians on the ground.
In a statement, AFP Chief, Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, said this corrects previous reports of 50 military fatalities in the incident, citing that there had been a case of “double count”.
Maj. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., the newly installed 4ID commander, said out of the 84 Army personnel on board the ill-fated plane, there were 47 survivors.
“As of this time, we already provided the dental records of the fallen soldiers to help fast-track the identification of the other cadavers and we ensure that the families of our fallen heroes, as well as those who are injured, are informed. We acknowledge the worries of the family members and the pain of losing a loved one,” Brawner said on July 5
He said he and his family and staff boarded the same aircraft to Cagayan de Oro City, which took off at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City hours before the crash.
Brawner said they alighted at the Lumbia airfield before the C-130 proceeded to the Laguindingan Airport in Laguindingan, Misamis Oriental, to fetch the waiting soldiers who were on their way to Sulu.
He said he considered his days following the crash as his “second life.”
“I am very thankful to God that he saved me from harm’s way. At the same time, I am sad because many of our soldiers died,” Brawner said.
At Villamor, he recalled that the aircraft’s pilot would give a pre-flight briefing to the most senior military officer who will be boarding as a passenger.
“I got to know the pilots. There were even members of the PAF who want(ed) to hitch a ride, although they were not in the manifest. I said yes, why not,” Brawner said.
In his earlier statement, Brawner said he joins the whole nation in mourning the sudden loss of the soldiers and reassured his steadfast support for the survivors.
“The 4ID extends its deepest sympathies to the families of the fallen soldiers during the C-130 accident in Patikul, Sulu. May our mighty Creator grant them strength and comfort in this time of immense grief. We are honored and grateful for their patriotic service,” he said. “We assure the general public and the families that the whole 4ID is closely coordinating with the Western Mindanao Command for any updates and for the necessary assistance we shall offer to the families of our fallen heroes. Let’s continue to pray that no more deaths will be added (to) the list.”
Philippine News Agency