18 Days at the River Banks

The search operations for the missing teenagers of Lower Wangal La Trinidad has reached Day 18 on Monday, September 02, 2019 where one of the two was found. I had Mixed emotions of Joy and Fear upon learning the discovery of the volunteer groups later that day. I was thankful but not to celebrate yet, as many things has to be considered to manage the dead in the lens of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management.

But first, remember that before day 18 was August 29 and 30, 2019 when our responders, led by Elgin Bulcio, LDRRMO I of La Trinidad, went down as far as Bagulin, La Union to conduct the Search operations there. This strategy was employed and implemented because after Sablan, the Balili River connects to Bagulin River. The conduct of Search operations there will also clear out speculations of possibility that those missing teens are there. All responders checked-in for that mission stayed overnight at the Municipal Hall of Baguilin, courtesy of Bagulin Mayor Virgilio Flor and the People of Bagulin. Salamat Apo.

On August 30, 2019, we accompanied Mayor Romeo K. Salda who wanted to visit his IMT and operatives at Bagulin. Upon our arrival, a courtesy meeting was conducted between the two chief executives. Really, the Municipality of Bagulin was eager to extend all possible help they could provide for this mission. When we met our search operations IMT and volunteers in their Incident Command Post (ICP), we observed that they are already exhausted, given the conditions of hot temperature, even the K9-s seems to show stress levels at that point. So, Immediately, after all objectives was met, the Responsible Official for this operation, Mayor Romeo Salda, immediately ordered demobilization of La Trinidad Resources and everyone returned to La Trinidad base.

So there were at least two-day rest days for our search operations volunteers. And on Monday, day 18, one of the missing persons was found. It was actually 4:00 PM on that day, the time of pull-out, when a volunteer from the Talingguroy group saw a hand where he thought was just a part of the garbage found therein. Perhaps due to fatigue and low morale, he forgot about possibilities. But after a moment, he went back with his buddy and confirmed it to be a human body part, covered with a lot Garbage, through a touch. All efforts were then concentrated on that area and the garbage was removed, thus, revealing the body which is unidentifiable. No marks, No clothes, just bare.

Management of the Dead and Missing comes to play. After the body was extricated, it was placed in a body bag and brought to Benguet General Hospital Morgue. The discovered body cannot be identified by their relatives because both missing teens were allegedly of the same weight and height. Just to make sure that the body is correctly identified, the services of the Crime Lab of the Philippine National Police was requested. The Results, however, needs to be processed and will be available after some time.

The discovery of the body on Day 18 was like a gas poured onto the fire of dedication in wanting to find the other missing teen. It enhanced the eagerness of our volunteers after an 18-day heartbreaks. I personally witnessed them losing hope in the same way I almost lost mine. Now I know better; that search operations of this duration requires a lot more than just a morale booster – it requires a lot of support.

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