The recent drowning incident in Loboc taught local officials a valuable lesson after apparently overlooking the need to regulate trips of outrigger bancas from one end of the river to the other as regular daily routine of the community along the riverbanks. The body of the 13-year-old victim just emerged to the surface floating from the murky depths of Loboc at around 10 o’clock Saturday morning just about ten meters from where the overloaded outrigger banca they boarded capsized on Thursday noon. Search and retrieval teams from the provincial government’s quick response unit–TARSIER 117, Philippine Coast Guard and private volunteers from Loboc searched for Mary Grace Lawas since Thursday afternoon until they ended up exhausted by Friday evening. Mary Grace Lawas, together with 11 classmates—all students of Camaya-an National High School, were crossing from the Camaya-an side to the Ugpong side of the river during the lunch break at around 12 noon upon the invitation of one of them to a lunch in their house. According to Alfredo Colegio, the 61-year-old boatman, the students panicked when water entered the banca. He advised them to stay calm and hold on to the outrigger. But they kept on moving until the banca capsized. He said the victim lost grip on one of her classmates and was submerged. At least seven other bancas were there to rescue them, but they could not find the victim. The municipal police learned about the incident at around 1 o’clock through a concerned citizen. PO2 Urvin Molina said they immediately sought assistance from TARSIER 117 and the Water Search and Rescue (WASAR)-trained volunteers in their town. A team from the Philippine Coast Guard also proceeded to the area to help. HIGH WATER LEVEL Molina said the water level was high when the incident happened after the continuous downpour since the day before and the current stirred the riverbed, turning the water murky. The composite search and retrieval team had a hard time finding the victim underwater. Since the incident, authorities thought it would be better to monitor the area for the activities of the boatmen who had been conveying folks from one side to the other. No authorities were monitoring the area prior to the incident because there was no proper docking area in either side of the river. Boatmen have been conveying barangay folks who need to cross the river for quite a time already without any government agency regulating their activities and they could sail and dock anywhere—safe or not. In fact, Colegio’s banca could only carry seven persons, but he gave the incessant students a favor that time as others in the past.
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