By: Jennifer P. Rendon and Emme Rose Santiagudo
FOUR officers of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and two from the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) in Western Visayas were relieved following the Iloilo Strait tragedy that claimed 31 lives.
Commodore Allan Victor dela Vega, commander of the Coast Guard District-Western Visayas (CGD-WV), confirmed the relief of Lieutenant Commander Perlita Cinco and Lieutenant Commander Joe Luviz Mercurio.
Cinco is the district commander of PCG-Iloilo District while Mercurio heads the PCG-Guimaras District.
Three other unnamed CGD-WV personnel were also relieved.
But dela Vega said the relief is a matter of procedure while the investigation into the deadly sea mishaps is going on.
“It’s a procedure every time we conduct an investigation,” dela Vega said, debunking insinuations that the five were preventively suspended.
He also stressed that the two relieved PCG officers became “sacrificial lambs” to appease people demanding accountability for the twin sea incidents.
Dela Vega also denied that the immediate relief had something to do with the arrival of President Rodrigo Duterte, who visited the wakes of the victims at Gegato Abecia Funeral Parlor in Jaro, Iloilo City.
“Their relief doesn’t mean they’re guilty or not. It’s procedural. We can’t relieve them while we’re conducting the search and rescue operations. They’re also involved in our operations,” dela Vega said.
Following the termination of the search, rescue, and retrieval operation, dela Vega said they had to implement the relief order.
“It was foreseeable,” he said.
In the meantime, the five PCG personnel are reassigned to the CGD-WV regional office in La Paz, Iloilo City.
Meanwhile, Department of Transportation Sec. Art Tugade confirmed the relief of Marina-6 regional director Rizal Victoria and the franchising officer.
The PCG has begun an inquiry into the incidents on Aug. 5, two days after the incident happened.
A two-man team from PCG main office’s Marine Casualty Investigation Division is conducting the probe.
The investigation would tackle on what transpired and the root cause analysis.
It would also try to ascertain if there are individuals to be held liable because of what happened.
Even dela Vega will not be spared from the probe.
As of 10:30 p.m. of Aug. 6, all victims and survivors were accounted for.
The mishaps involved 83 passengers and 13 pump boat crew members.
Sixty-five passengers and all boat crew members survived while 31 were confirmed dead.