La Tragedia en Palawan: Un Año Despues
Without batting an eyelash, we set out on each of our own activities: taking pictures, looking for seashells, strolling that took me as far as the end of the wide beach that we had all for ourselves. The beach was virtually empty and we had it all for ourselves, except these two boys gathering shells, oblivious of our presence.
After sometime, we decided to walk together towards the other end beyond the long pile of rocks that look like a breakwater. Before leaving our cottage, Rolan thought of leaving behind our life vests and snorkeling gears, knowing we're not going to swim, so the rest of us followed suit.
We were trudging slowly on the sand, taking pictures and shooting video intended as audition for the upcoming Amazing Race Asia, when a lone mangrove tree caught our attention and took turns posing beside that solitary mangrove seedling, and we even acted as if we intended to uproot it.
Continuing further on after sating the shutterbugs in us, Rolan invited us towards the place where small waves can be seen, saying "Doon tayo sa may waves." ("Let's go there where the waves are.")
At the back of my mind I said, "Ang hina naman nyang waves na yan."
We were walking towards the waves by wading into the sea, taunting Ate Cor who opted to stay behind and just watch us frolic, when the water reached reached knee-deep and suddenly and almost simultaneously we all lost touch of solid ground.
"Ay malalim! Ay malalim nga!" Rolan said upon realizing we're in a deep part of the beach and lost footing.
At that juncture, Oliver panicked when he was unable to stand. He held on to Armi, but the two of them sanked.
"Si Tito B. Si Tito B.," Oliver shouted, as he swam towards me and tried to clutch on to my shoulder, but both of us sank again, unlike in his past experience when doing so helped him get back to shore by towing someone who's drowning.
"Bro, lumulubog ako!" ("Brother, I'm sinking!"), I replied, so he let go.
I knew Oliver couldn't swim well as much as Rolan and I could. He could float but didn't know how to tread. Rolan and Armi buoyed Oliver so he could float by lying on his back, by far the easiest on still water, but which turns out to be difficult when waves wash up on your face.
"Oliver, float! Float!," Rolan kept shouting to Oliver trying to stay afloat face upward.
Recognizing the urgency of getting at least the lone life vest near us, I swam away from them looking for Ate Cor who was so far away.
My God! We were swept about 50 meters farther away from our initial position where the water was just thigh-high. What made it more difficult was that, no matter how much I tried to struggle going back to safe ground, I was not moving forward but sideways to my left and farther away from the shore.
We shouted "Ate Cor, tulong! Tulong!," ("Help! Help!") but Ate Cor just looked at us unable to understand what we're saying since we're too far away and so we looked to her as if we're just really having fun.
This struggle went on for a few minutes, all of us fending for our ourselves since we knew we couldn't help each other in the open, not like when I had my vest and fins on. Few minutes of struggling took it toll on us, with Armi yelling in desperate tone, "Tito, Tulong! Tulong!" ("Tito, Help! Help!"), showing signs of fatigue and helplessness. I looked behind me and replied to her, "Di ko kaya, Ate Armi!" ("I can't, Armi!"). I was about 10 meters behind her. Oliver was carried away farthest by this time.
I thought of using my aquashoes as paddles to help since they're a tad heavy on my legs, but paddling didn't help so I just threw them away. I was getting tired of floating around going in circles when I thought of another way to get me to safety: go with the flow -- just float around and harness the energy of the waves to push me back to shore. On sensing the coming of the big waves, I made a jerky motion so I could float over them and allow their full power to push me back to the safety of the shore.
Coming nearer, and this time talking with the two boys present, who told her it's dangerous to swim with the waves, Ate Cor saw me raised my hand, signaling to throw the only life vest near us, and now realizing we're in danger. She at once asked the help of the two kids to bring the vests. It was a futile attempt. It looked even more dangerous for the two to come near.
It seemed like the last scenes of "The Perfect Storm" with thoughts of my loved ones in my head prodding me not to give up. I was in the middle of these thoughts when Rolan sideswiped me while swimming under water. Confused since I knew he's quite far me, I called him "Bro" but wasn't able to elicit a reply.
I glanced back and saw Oliver and Armi still floating, crying and floating. One by one, the big waves came while I could hear the three praying louder and louder until I could no longer hear them due to the thunderous sound of waves smashing on my back.
A few minutes later, I suddenly found myself standing on safe ground. I quickly looked back and saw Oliver declaring himself safe as well as Armi. I made quick steps wading towards the beach when Armi shouted, "Where's Rolan?"
Oliver shouted, "Nawawala si Rolan," ("Rolan's missing!"), something I didn't immediately notice since he bumped into me earlier and I thought he went ahead of me to get help. I was too tired but I continued dragging my weary legs and dropped my whole weight on dry sand quickly near Ate Corr. I tried to stand up upon learning Rolan was really missing but couldn't since my legs were shaking, unable to move.
After a few seconds, Armi, with adrenalin rush, run towards the houses about fifty meters away from me to ask for help with Ate Cor running behind her. Armi continued to run straight towards the owner of the beach resort while Ate Cor shouted for help at the nearby houses.
Soon people went out of their houses and run towards the beach. When Ate Cor headed back to the beach, too, she remembered to call Fr. Manny who was officiating a wedding and informed him what happened to Rolan.
People nearby came with a rope in tow, looking for Rolan. Some just berated us for going there, saying it's dangerous. (Hello, as if they posted a sign there that there's danger lurking beneath those waves.) I answered in my head (or I answered them mentally), "Then why didn't you post a warning here?"
Few minutes passed and the men who came to help us sighted Rolan in the water (floating?) and quickly brought him towards us. They laid Rolan on the sand and called on us to do CPR.
I stood up, with legs wobbling still, and approached Rolan, his lips already purple, skin pale, and iris already shunk-- a heartrending sight indeed. All these are signs he's been underwater for too long. His mouth was also spewing food from our breakfast earlier. I held his head to turn it sideways to remove the food from his mouth and also to straighten his air passages when the men took him away from us and hurriedly brought him to the waiting vehicle, driven by a German and the owner of the nearby resort.
At the back of the pick-up truck, Ate Cor administered CPR to Rolan. They were on the way to a clinic, about a kilometer away. Oliver and I remained on the beach and broke the news to our friends even when we were still too tired to do so. After a while, we walked a little but again sat on the dusty, unpaved road due to fatigue. Then the baranggay multicab arrived and took us to the clinic as well.
On reaching the clinic, I could hear, even from a distance, Ate Corr and Armi wailing. I already knew what it was:
Rolan has left us!
the part of the undeveloped beach we found out later to be called a Kantilado, from the Spanish acantilado meaning cliff-- an underwater cliff that's dangerous indeed!
We were later informed by the clinic staff that one of Rolan's legs was stiff, indicating he suffered from leg cramps. (Rolan also has a history of fainting during accidents and moments of panic.)
We waited quite a while for the ambulance to arrive (which was busy from a bus accident on the highway and where many people also died when the bus plunged into a ravine) to take us to a hospital in Puerto Princesa, not to try to resuscitate him, but to have a doctor officially declare him "departed."
The trip to the hospital was quite long and we're all seated beside Rolan's body inside the ambulance. At the hospital, the doctor brought out an ECG machine, just a gesture of formality, it turned out, then printed out the results to officially declare him dead.
It's consoling to know that Rolan's officemates from PNOC contacted Shell Foundation, who sent people, some in the middle of a golf game, to help us arrange almost everything-- the coffin, funeral parlor, embalmment. They even joined us in the wake at the funeral chapel for our first night of mourning for our dear friend. Fr. Manny and his family, who were also close friends of Ate 'Cor and the relatives of Ate Armi's officemates comforted us, too.
We rebooked our return flight and went home the following day, the four of us, with Rolan checked in at the plane's cargo hold.
Arrivng in Manila and straight to the funeral homes on J.P. Rizal St. in Makati, the hardest part of our ordeal came before us: explaining to Rolan's family and virtually to everybody what happened.
Up to now, Rolan's family still doesn't believe our story!
In Memory of
February 18, 2006
Inagawan (part of Iwahig Penal Colony)
Puerto Princesa, Palawan
It took me one year to finish this story. My thanks to R.O., also a friend of Rolan, for editing this. Picture of Rolan's marker courtesy of Oliver.
This day, the tutubi turned a year old on his second lease on life!
posted by backpacking philippines @ 10:15 AM,
- At Feb 18, 2007, 10:26:00 PM, Alternati said...
My condolences. I'm truly sorry to hear about your friend's passing.
When I started reading the post, I didn't know that's how sad it was gonna turn out. I guess these events in our lives will forever remain vivid in our heads, It's been a year and you retell it with such accuracy. I'm guessing you're not a very vocal person when it comes to your feelings... You never mentioned how you felt in the entry. I am the same way.
If anything, it tells me to carpe diem.
- At Feb 19, 2007, 10:14:00 AM, Toe said...
Tutubi, I'm truly sorry for the loss of the life of Rolan. It must have been difficult for you for the past year and now, writing this story. I applaud you for your courage and your honesty. I will pray for Rolan and also for you, the others with you, and Rolan's family for strength and comfort.
- At Feb 19, 2007, 3:13:00 PM, Belle TH said...
my gosh! your story gave me goosebumps. may God Bless Rolan's soul. you were such a brave man!
my husband had the same drowning experience but at a different beach in the Philippines. he got sucked in by the undertow while wading through the waters. he fought for more than an hour but survived in the end because he was holding on to a small float. he was all alone and good thing a boy saw him and notified my brother who was playing pool at a resort. brother immediately rushed to the village to get a fisherman and a canoe. meanwhile, my husband was fighting for his life every second. without the float, he would have been dead. lucky,the fisherman rescued him alive.
same thing, no sign put up despite the known danger.
- At Feb 19, 2007, 4:22:00 PM, said...
Hi, yeah, it's been a year ... and yet, when i read your article, it seemed like it's the first time i am learning the whole story of what really happened a year ago ... and it set me in a melancholic mood (again) ... it's sad that our dear friend Rolan is not with us anymore ... and yet, i believe he is happy and at peace now ... Weird, but though your article elicit a depressing and gloomy mood, it likewise bring back good, happy memories of Rolan -- he is someone who love life and wants to live life to the fullest.
I salute you! It's not easy to retell a story as tragic as this one ... but, finally, you were able to write it! Thanks for sharing it with us.
Tito B., i pray that time will come that you and Rolan's family will be ok again, at least initially on speaking terms ... If the untimely demise of Rolan was difficult and was a shocked to us as his friends, how much more to his family -- what happened was indescribably painful and hurting to them especially to his mom but in His perfect time ... Time heals all wounds ... God bless =)
- At Feb 22, 2007, 9:21:00 AM, eye said...
condolences to rolan and his family. while i was going through the post, i thought you'd still recover him at the hospital. i was too shocked to read the line that rolan has left all of you. what more pa ngang talaga nung ni-relay nyo ang story sa kanyang family. i'm sure rolan is at peace right now wherever he is :)
god bless to your 2nd lease of life.
- At Feb 23, 2007, 11:19:00 AM, aryo said...
I thought this was just another travelogue. But as I was reading it, memories rushed back, bringing me to the same experience when strong currents sucked us to the deeper part of the sea. Fighting the currents sapped our strength and it was quite sure we could not last any longer. Good thing some fishermen spotted us.
Unfortunately, your experience ended tragically. May your friend rest in peace.
- At Feb 23, 2007, 2:05:00 PM, iskoo said...
i have been to palawan and have seen some good beaches there, and some of them are really dangerous to non expert swimmers. as i read your post i suddenly remember some similar experiences i had in palawan, i almost drowned, naka vest pa ako nun. nakikiramay ako sa pagkasawi ng isang kaibigan, 1 year have past at mananatili ang alala ng isang kaibagan. I am sure he is happy right now with our maker.
off topic: thnx sa comment, isa sa mga weakness ko post processing ng digital pic. but still i am dreaming of having a dslr :)
- At Feb 23, 2007, 10:47:00 PM, Sidney said...
Condolences to Rolan's family and you.
What a tragedy! I guess you will never be able to forget what happened that day...
- At Feb 24, 2007, 8:21:00 AM, Senor Enrique said...
I am truly sorry about Rolan's death. My condolences.
- At Feb 24, 2007, 11:52:00 AM, Ferdz said...
I know how hard to loose a friend din, but not having lost one during a trip. Buti di ako natuluyan nung nalaglag ako sa Sagada ano. hahaha
Anyways condolences still on his anniversary. Sana his family is at peace na on what happened.
- At Feb 24, 2007, 3:39:00 PM, dave (",) said...
hi! condolences. hope everything's ok now. will be having an outing this march and it's sobering to be made aware of safety issues.
anyway, thanks for dropping by my blog :)
- At Feb 24, 2007, 3:58:00 PM, rhodora said...
Such a heartbreaking story... But you are one lucky person, Tutubi. God has grand plans for you that He gave you this second life.
- At Feb 24, 2007, 11:49:00 PM, jhenny said...
so sad to read this. well i hope the family had recovered na, i know siguro nahihirapan lang silang tanggapin yung nangyari but given a time they will learn to understand and accept what had happened.
i've been there to palawan too, and yes some of the beaches had dangerous cliffs, una hanggang bewang mo pa lang yung water tapos isang hakbang mo na lang ang lalim na pala ng kasunod na part ng beach.. ndi rin kasi ako marunong lumangoy kaya i see to it na may vest talaga ako, sa totoo lang natakot din ako sa sobrang lalim ng mga beaches dun, kaya kahit nga may vest ako ndi ako masyadong lumalayo sa shore...
condolences to you for losing a friend like him.
- At Feb 26, 2007, 7:38:00 AM, carlotta said...
it took a lot of courage for you to write this. my condolences on your friend's passing. i haven't experienced this but i know how hard it must have been for you and your other friends.
thank God for your second lease on life.
- At Apr 10, 2007, 5:10:00 PM, missP said...
God bless Rolan's soul... i had hoped that incident would have a happy ending. I guess you can say i am a sucker for one. My heart cries out to you and your friends and to Rolan's family. Nakakapang hinayang to know that a life is cut short just because of a missing sign.
- At Jul 20, 2008, 2:07:00 PM, beybs cantillo-rofule said...
I just tried to check sites in Palawan when I came accross your blog re tragedy in the beach. Its a sad story and sharing this outside is a somewhat relief of sigh.... our condolences and may the tragedy brought some learnings not only to you but to all vacationers who are new in some places... to take precautionary measures and won't allow joy or excitement surpass safety and security of each and every member of the team.
try to moving forward.....
- At Jul 20, 2008, 7:36:00 PM, tutubi said...
hi beybs, thanks for the kind words...already moved forward
- At Aug 7, 2008, 12:37:00 AM, said...
i believe this story has knocked some sense of precaution into me. perhaps the youth especially tend to overestimate their capabilities, stretching the limits when they shouldn't be. thank you for sharing the experience, tragic as it is. you'll never know who's life you could save, as the internet reaches a worldwide market.
may you safely discover much more great things about places in the world, and i hope you do continue to post.
- At Aug 7, 2008, 9:45:00 PM, tutubi said...
anonymous, thanks for the kind words. yes, i didn't stop blogging and traveling...even enjoying life more...forlife goes on
- At Dec 27, 2008, 9:18:00 PM, Bianca Ekaterina Solmoro said...
- At Feb 9, 2009, 4:54:00 AM, blahblahblahs said...
i'm sorry to hear about this, it must have been painful to write this story..i didn't know it would turn out like this, i was just looking at your post because we are planning to have a trip on January in Palawan..i'm glad you are still doing your trips and enjoying your second chance on life :) i'm sure you're friend is in a happy place now.
- At Sep 27, 2010, 2:49:00 AM, said...
i know it's been 4 years now, but i've just come across this article. way back in the late 90s, i heard at least two separate accidents the same as yours in that area, right after the zigzag road going to Inagawan. i believe the place is called tagbarungis.
- At Sep 28, 2010, 2:05:00 PM, backpacking philippines said...
anonymous, yeah. i'm going back there next year for the 5th anniversary of my dear friend. the people there would get a "tongue lashing" from me (on this blog) if i find no warning in the area...they just keep on telling people after the incident and narrate all the others. a warning sign should be there in the first place
- At Jan 27, 2011, 5:01:00 PM, said...
Tutubi, when I went again to the place last 2 years ago, there was still no signage. I asked "manang" about it and she informed me that they already placed a signage but the waters reached it during high tide and swept it away.
Thankful and praying for our safe trip back to the place on Feb. 18-20.
- At Mar 31, 2011, 11:35:00 AM, said...
it's so heart breaking in mode.. ;(
- At Feb 29, 2012, 10:31:00 PM, said...
By the way,this blog helps me a lot,me and my fiancee actually bought a piece of land just nearby blue skies..Thank you so much,sobrang laki nang naitulong nitong blog mo Mr. Tutubi, atleast we now know how dangerous this place is.God, nalilito na tuloy ako ngayun either itutuloy paba namin ang magpatayu nang bahay dito or not. I totally don't know about this.i just randomly open your blog from looking for a nice resort where we can stay while planning on building the house..Any advice please..i would really appreciate it if you do.
- At Mar 1, 2012, 2:01:00 PM, backpacking philippines said...
anonymous, the beach itself is place even a few kilometers from the shore, people should just install markers there like developed beaches do. when i got back there, there's still no marker, an accident waiting to happen or might have happend already after we went there