SAMAR, Philippines – Fishermen found debris of a motorized boat and the remains of a woman off the coast of Tarangnan, Samar, on Tuesday morning, August 23, the town’s disaster risk reduction office said.
The military’s Joint Task Force (JTF) Storm spokesperson Captain Ryan Layug confirmed that fishermen found part of a woman’s lower body along with pieces of a motorized banca in waters around 1.5-kilometers (km) south of Barangay Poblacion coast in Tarangan.
The town is 16.9 km north of Catbalogan, the provincial capital, where task force officials on Monday, August 22, confirmed reports that a motorized boat being chased by military forces had exploded in nearby waters.
The task force is composed of members of the Philippine Army, Air Force, and Navy and tasked to “neutralize the insurgency” and support other law enforcement operations, and humanitarian and disaster response.
While social media rumors circulated that the boat’s passengers were high-ranking officials of the Communist Party of the Philippines, JTF Storm said tipsters only mentioned armed individuals and did not identify them.
Layug said the Philippine National Police (PNP) has documented and gathered evidence and samples to try and identify the slain woman and ownership of the banca.
A cleric blessed the human body part that was placed in a crate by Philippine Coast Guard and police personnel who retrieved what the fisherfolk had found.
The human remains were given a proper burial by the Tarangnan local government and the 8th Infantry Divisition (8ID), Layug added.
“The retrieval of debris and this human remains is a positive development and we are hopeful that bits of information that will be obtained from these will provide confirmation to all earlier speculations,” said JTF Storm Commander Major General Edgardo de Leon.
“We have coordinated with the local PNP for assistance in determining the identity of the recovered body part through appropriate laboratory procedures. We also sent drones to scour for more debris and remains, but the unfavorable weather condition over the area hindered the air surveillance mission,” De Leon said.
De Leon was referring to social media claims that among the dead in the August 22 encounter were Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, top officials of the Communist of the Philippines (CPP).
The couple was arrested in Cebu City in 2014 but allowed to post bail for the 2016 peace talks between the National Democratic Front (NDF), and then-president Rodrigo Duterte’s government.
Government forces have been doing search and retrieval operations in Samar waters since August 22, when soldiers tried to interdict a boat after tipsters reported armed persons loading boxes.
De Leon said their unit did not release any information on identities.
“Sa ngayon, inaalam pa namin kung sino ang mga nakaengkwentro ng tropa natin. Minomonitor talaga namin ang shorelines in support sa anti-illegal fishing campaign, criminal gangs eluding arrest,” he said. (We’re still trying to identify who the soldiers encountered. We really monitor this coast to support the anti-illegal fishing campaign and go after criminal gangs eluding arrest.)
He also said the area was a “mobility corridor” for the CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA) for the transport of personnel and weapons, including anti-personnel mines.
The military report said soldiers used a megaphone to ask the occupants of the boat to allow inspection, but that the occupants immediately fired at them.
No soldier was injured, De Leon said, and it was not clear how the boat exploded during the chase or if there was shooting going on when it did.
“Nagkaroon na ng habulan. Tapos bigla na lang sumabog ang motorized boat,” De Leon said. (There was a chase. Then suddenly, the boat just exploded.)
Layug described the boat as a total wreck with bits and pieces found in separate locations.
He said fishermen first round the boat’s rear side and, soon after, other parts.
“Mukhang inanod nang malakas na alon kaya magkakalayo noong maretrieve. Sa tantiya ng mga residente kung saan dinala ang wreckage, may kapasidad na mahigit 10 katao ang pwedeng sumakay sa nasirang bangka,” Layug added.
(The strong current may have scattered the boat debris, which could explain why these were retrieved some distance from each other. Residents in the area estimate the boat was big enough to carry 10 passengers.) – Rappler.com