Sunday, September 2, 2007

Salvaging a Sunken Ship: The Mactan Saga

“I am alarmed . . . regarding the plan of salvaging M/V Mactan, using explosives, by (a certain) Calixto Enterprises Salvaging Team. This team is already at the site as of August 29, and is believed to have already planted explosive devices in the sunken vessel, waiting for the go signal to (fire). However, due to the quick response of our local government and concerned citizens of Sibale, the retrieval using explosives was temporarily halted. But for how long and who will win in this tug-of-war between the people of Sibale and Calixto Enterprises, to which the sunken vessel was already sold to?”

This was the frantic message Merwin Mosquera sent from far away Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia in an e-mail last week.

In his message, Merwin, a classmate who had made good in life as an expat, directed me to a site called Sibalenhon Web Forum which, when I accessed, was exploding with denunciation of the outrageous salvaging act.

But why would Merwin and others equally concerned, mostly so far away from an island, grind their teeth over a sunken vessel? Why should hackles be raised about a resting, rusting ship, which had already been eaten by the depths and therefore no longer recognizable as such? Indeed, why the sudden interest over a piece of junk in the belly of the sea?

For the interested—and they are mostly the Sibalenhons, who are so few that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo might not care about them a whit—the furor over M/V Mactan is about memory. It’s all about history. It’s all about government insensitivity. And it’s all about destroying Sibale’s pristine marine environment.

It all began on June 18 this year, when the Sangguniang Bayan passed S. B. Resolution No. 2007-17 entitled, “Resolution Authorizing the Chief Executive to Offer for Sale the Sunken Ship M/V Mactan in Barangay Masadya within the Territorial Jurisdiction of the Island Municipality of Concepcion, Romblon”.
The subject of the resolution was, well, M/V Mactan, the passenger vessel of shipping company Compania Maritima, which sunk off the waters of Masursor—not Masadya, as the resolution falsely claimed—34 years ago, or on July 16, 1973.

For all intents and purposes, M/V Mactan is no longer a ship. It is already a relic, a coral dot in the vast deep of the sea that imprisons in isolation the islands, including Sibale, on that passage to the Visayas called the Tablas Strait.

The length of time since M/V last breathed air on the surface of the Sibalenhon sea has undoubtedly blurred not only the ship physically, but also the memory of its sinking. The resolution authorizing its sale brings back the painful tragedy on that chilly morning of July 1973 when over a thousand souls drowned into their watery graves.
Reading S. B. Resolution No. 2007-17 is one of the keys to discovering the mystery of l’affaire Mactan. My comments immediately following the quoted resolution, are bracketed.

“Whereas, there is one interisland ship M/V Mactan sunk and abandoned by its owner for several years in Barangay Masadya, this municipality.” (The author/s of the resolution meant that the ship sank on itself, not sunk by the owner, and later abandoned.)“Whereas, this ship is now hazardous to navigation and environment considering (the) oil spill that would destroy marine life within the area.” (Thirty-four years after M/V Mactan went down, the author/s of the resolution realized, like they were oil engineers, a potential oil spill from the ship and said it is now hazardous both to navigation and the environment. How did they know it?)“WHEREAS, considering the length of time the ship lie (sic) beneath the sea, it is but proper and fitting that the municipality be declared owner of all sunken and abandoned ships within the territorial water of this municipality . . .” (Well, 34 years is quite a long time. What took the municipality so long to claim ownership of the ship? Why not five, ten, or fifteen years earlier?)

The resolution went on to authorize the Chief Executive (the mayor) to offer for sale M/V Mactan. It was approved unanimously, meaning, all members—except one who was absent—expressed agreement that M/V Mactan, now declared to be owned by the municipality, shall be sold.

The names of the SB members who signed the municipal edict will be etched in the glorious annals of Sibalenhon history. These are those of Vice Mayor Raul F. Luistro, the presiding officer, and members Joeffrey F. Ferranco, Samuel F. Famarin, Jasmin F. Familaran, Luzviminda F. Fabunan, Bob F. Fornal, Lenneth L. Fabroa, Ramiro M. Senorin, Job F. Ferrancullo, and Wilson Ferras. The absent member was John Bob Ferranco. He must have been fishing near where M/V Mactan sank when the SB was deliberating on the resolution.

If not for the fact that some nosy Sibalenhons smelt a rat, the resolution would have gone unnoticed. Come on, what’s so earth-shaking about selling a sunken ship? Inggwa gani it nabaligya it tagawtaw o pasil. Barko pang yugrang ngiy?

That’s not the point, however. The issue, as Charito Fornal, who now resides in Canada, said in a rejoinder, is the resolution was rushed. It was a midnight resolution.

“I am trying to disabuse my mind (of the) thinking that this was a midnight resolution, but it seems to me the ingredients of being one is there. I don't think it will only take (a few) days for the SB to come up with such (a) decision given the nature and legal implications of their decision,” he said.

No, Bong. It was not only a midnight resolution. It was a half-baked one. Let me tell you why. Every SB member in that room who deliberated on the resolution knew that their term of office was to end June 30, 2007. They knew that on July 1, they would no longer be “honorables” and chances are that the newly-elected members would pore over the proposal for sale once they get their hands on it. So what they did is to cook it up in haste to consume a fire sale. Somebody in the SB will profit from it, no doubt. The question is who?

The concerned citizen who posted the information in the Sibalenhon Web Forum must be erected a monument. If one will go back to previous posts, one will see that this fellow revealed there was a salvage permit for M/V Mactan, Salvage Permit NR 2006-02, applied for with the Philippine Coast Guard in August 2006 and was approved on September 1, 2006. The identity and address of the applicant was withheld, but let me assure you, he or she will be unmasked in due time. P1,700 pesos was all that was paid for the permit. Vice Admiral Arthur Gosingan, commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard, signed the document.

What was interesting was that the salvage permit has a one-year expiry date. It was to expire—and should have expired—the other day, August 31. Now, if the salvage operation was botched because of the whistle blown by Merwin and company, will the shadowy characters behind the salvaging pursue it still?

There is more to it than meets the eye, I tell you.

(First of two parts. Next: Voices of the Living and the Dead)

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