‘HE NEVER CRIED’: Father attributes survival to son’s courage

RICHIE Bustamante narrates the ordeal he and his son Brent Kian went through when their pump boat capsized in Iloilo Strait on Aug 3, 2019. (Gerome Dalipe)

By: Gerome Dalipe

RICHIE Bustamante lost his consciousness four times as he and 39 fellow passengers spent about an hour adrift in the turbulent Iloilo Strait.

But the 34-year-old security guard from Buenavista town in Guimaras Island quickly regained his consciousness when he heard his six-year-old son Brent Kian calling for him.

“He never cried. Maybe his guardian angel was there with him during our darkest moment,” Bustamante said in Hiligaynon.

Richie and Brent Kian survived the tragedy, which claimed 27 lives. They are being treated at St. Paul Hospital in Iloilo City.

Richie and his son boarded M/B Jenny Vince from Buenavista wharf in Guimaras en route to Parola Wharf in Iloilo City on Aug. 3.

But the motorized banca capsized a few minutes after it left Buenavista due to strong winds brought about by tropical storm “Hannah.”

Thirteen passengers, including a minor died while six others are still missing, according to the Coast Guard.

Before the sinking of Jenny Vince, M/B Chi-Chi and M/B Keziah left Parola wharf in Iloilo City for Jordan, Guimaras when they also capsized past 12:15 p.m. Saturday.

Chi-Chi was carrying four crew and 47 passengers. The Regional Police Office in Western Visayas reported that 12 passengers died.

M/B Keziah, the second motorbanca to capsize in Iloilo Strait, was fortunate all its crew members survived.

In an interview with Daily Guardian, Bustamante said the weather was completely fine when they boarded the motorized banca from Buenavista for Iloilo City on Saturday afternoon.

Bustamante, who works as a security guard in a cinema in downtown Iloilo, said he would bring along his son to his work on weekends and holidays.

Bustamante said he later noticed dark clouds hovering over Iloilo City while their banca was between Iloilo and Guimaras.

Then the unthinkable happened: strong winds battered and it instantly pitched and rolled down, sinking the boat within seconds.

Everyone got trapped underneath the banca.

For an hour of agony, Bustamante and his son were trapped inside the upturned banca beneath the canopy. They soon began sinking down with the boat into the freezing waters of the strait.

Although both alive, Bustamante said he lost grip of his son’s hand. The boy was hardly able to keep his head above the choppy water.

Then the father felt a hard part of the boat and stepped on it, while holding his son’s head above the water.

Bustamante said he heard several people yelling for help, knocking underneath the wooden boat, and praying for rescuers to arrive.

“From time to time, I asked my son if he was okay, and he said ‘Yes, Papa. He never cried. I believed that his guardian angel was there guiding him. His courage simply pushed me to hang on,” Bustamante said in Hiligaynon.

Coast Guard rescuers arrived after about an hour and began to pluck both survivors and the dead from underneath the banca.

The father and his son were among the survivors. They were brought to the Diamond Jubilee Hall in downtown Iloilo on Saturday night and later transferred to St. Paul Hospital for further treatment.

Bustamante believed that those who did not make it may have died due to panic and foul odor from the bunker fuel that spilled from the sunken banca.

Of the 86 total passengers, 53 survived and 27 died. Six persons remain missing as of press time yesterday afternoon, according to the joint disaster response personnel from Guimaras and Iloilo City.

The Provincial Government of Guimaras and the City Government of Iloilo have jointly assisted the survivors and casualties in the various hospitals and funeral homes in Iloilo City and Guimaras.

Operatives of the Regional Maritime Group in Western Visayas are still conducting search and retrieval operations for the missing passengers.