Manila Bulletin, Sunday, 13 September 2009
By: Dexter A See
The Armed Forces' naval and air force assets and personnel once again
proved their genuine humanism as they displayed amazing gallantry amid
disaster when they braved the perilous seas to save lives following the sinking
of SuperFerry 9 off Sibuco Bay in Zamboanga del Norte and M/V Hera
in Eastern Samar.
Responding to a distress call, the men and women of the Navy and
the Philippine Air Force (PAF) faced danger and demonstrated the true
meaning of soldiery as they worked day and night, scouring the seas in search
This selfless act of the military only attests to what President Arroyo once
said when she gave recognition to the bravery of soldiers, that "the uniform
is not only a symbol of vigilance but a symbol of caring and sharing in a world
of calamity and strife."
OnThursday, the Navy bestowed the "Distinguished Navy Cross" award to
Gunnersmate 3rd Class Anifer Bucao and Fireman 1st Class Aviation Mechanic
Oliver Cogo, for distinguished heroism while serving as sea marshals
onboard the ill-fated SuperFerry 9.
Cogo, 33, was reportedly the last person to jump off the sinking ship.
Disregarding his own safety, Cogo did not leave the ship until he was sure
there was no one else left on board the vessel.
Based on his narration, among those he was able to help safely disembark
were 15 children, the last of whom was a special child whom he recalled
was even punching him then. Cogo and Bucao, 35,were presented to the media
by Navy Flag Officer-in-Command, Vice Admiral Ferdinand Golez, who
pinned their medals.
An order signed by Rear Admiral Feliciano Angue, Chief of Naval Staff,
stated, "Upon hearing the ship master's command to abandon ship, Bucao
and Cogo disregarded personal safety and voluntarily remained on board to
provide aid and comfort to disoriented passengers."
Throughout the incident, Bucao and Cogo demonstrated remarkable gallantry
and sound judgment by giving clear "abandon ship" instructions to
passengers and personally led them to disembarkation stations.
Bucao and Cogo helped distribute lifejackets while trying to calm down
the passengers by telling them that rescue is on its way. Bucao admitted
fearing for his own life but still managed to maintain presence of mind.
He said he decided to jump off the sinking vessel only after making sure
that there was no one else left in his sector.
Cogo said, "Nagpapasalamat ako sa Panginoon dahil binigyan niya ako ng
lakas ng loob," he narrated.
"Nakita ko nakahawak na ang mga tao sa railings, ang mga bata nag-iiyakan
na so as a sea marshal I checked the lifejackets of all passengers. There
were almost 300 passengers on my side."
The abandon ship order was announced by the captain at about 3:35
a.m. but it was already around 8:00 a.m. when Cogo jumped off the ship.
As he jumped into the sea, Cogo said he noticed a man having difficulty with
his lifejacket so he decided to throw his lifejacket to the man, thinking that he
can handle the situation better than the civilian because of his training.
Without any lifesupport, Cogoswam as fast as he could, away from the sinking
SuperFerry 9 until he reached one of the navy vessels that responded to the
Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo said Naval Forces Western
Mindanao Commander Rear Admiral Alexander Pama dispatched as early as
4:40a.m. on that fateful day two Patrol Gunboats - PG 116 under Commander
Carlos Sabarre and PG117 under LCdr Teofilo Pulmano - to respond to a distress
call from the SuperFerry 9.
Navy personnel rescued a total of 444 survivors, including the Captain of
the ship, and recovered four out of the ten fatalities during the entire rescue
and recovery operations.
THE AIR FORCE
With the advent of modernization, the very war machines that used to
conquer territories and punish the belligerent were given new tasks - to
This was proven anew by the Philippine Air Force in the typhoon-swept
seas of Eastern Samar where the treacherous waters of the Pacific
Ocean and the Eastern Philippine Sea battered a Panamanian registered cargo
vessel, M/V Hera, manned by four Korean nationals and 15 Filipinos.
The vessel sunk off the coast of Eastern Samar around 6 p.m. on the
same day that tragedy hit the SuperFerry 9.
Two hours past midnight following the sinking, Lt. Col Romeo Jerome
Dirilo Jr., the deputy commander of Philippine Air Force Tactical Operations
Group based in Tacloban City, was informed by the commander of
AFP Central Command based in Cebu to prepare for an early morning search
and rescue operation.
At 5:40 a.m. the PAF's 2nd Air Division based in Mactan sent two UH-IH
- the trusted workhorse of most armies all over the world - with a rescue team
from the 505th Search and Rescue Group on board, to the headquarters
of the Philippine Army's 14th Infantry Battalion in Oras, Eastern Samar,
which was the military's nearest outpost in the scene of the sinking.
Hueys number 516 and 514,piloted by Captain Arvin Zara and Captain
Almer Augustine Irineo, respectively, were joined by UH-IH number 225
and 276 piloted by Captain Cherrylane Laforteza and Captain Celito Balico,
The gutsy lady pilot and her wingman, who were based in Tacloban,
took off at exactly 6:27 a.m. amidst inclement weather. They were initially
set to conduct resupply mission that day to support ground troopers of the
Army's 803rd Infantry Brigade but were instead directed to support the
search and rescue operation.
It was a case of what to prioritize for the Tacloban based helicopters - to
save lives or to deliver the supplies of the troops. At the 14IB base, they were
informed that the 19 survivors of M/V Hera were already onboard a lifeboat
and are being towed by a responding fishing vessel towards Oras, Eastern
Samar. With the seafarers now in safe hands, the lady pilot and her wingman
proceeded to the 803rd Infantry Brigade in Catarman. A few minutes later,
her Cebu compatriots arrived.
Soon after delivering the goods, the Tacloban-based Hueys returned
to Oras to join the Cebu contingent in airlifting the survivors to Cebu upon
the request of the owners of the sunken vessel.
Twelve hours of flight amidst inclement weather and 10 sorties that
rescued 4 Korean and 15 Filipino seafarers were performed without
any untoward incident - a testament to the readiness of Air Force units in
performing life-sensitive missions that has become their way of life.