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On kin who remain missing to this day; Yolanda survivors ask court for presumptive death decree

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines — Four years after super typhoon Yolanda devastated Eastern Visayas, a group of survivors has formally filed a petition, through the Public Attorney's Office-Region 8, for the court to issue a declaration of presumptive death (DPD) on their relatives who remained missing to this day.

The Initiatives for the Dialogue Empowerment through Alternative Legal Assistance (IDEALS), a non -government organization, has been assisting the surviving families in their petition, as well as for the implementation of its project–Cooperation to Ensure Legal Documentation and Access–for claims for the injured, the missing, and the dead during Yolanda.

In yesterday's news conference, dubbed as "Remember the Missing," IDEALS Spokesperson Anne Bernadette Mendiola said the filing of the DPD is a way of the families to move on from their traumatic experience of the tragedy.

"The surviving families are still in pain and without closure from their missing loved ones. We want the court decree (declaring a person as presumably dead) to help them move on from this pain brought by the super typhoon Yolanda," Mendiola told the media.

One of the four petitioners, Ronilo Docos, a fisherman and a Yolanda survivor, his family wants to file a death declaration to be able to end the tragic experience of losing his 70-year-old mother, who is still missing. He said the storm surge washed away his mother to nowhere, and since then his family has been looking for her but to no avail.

The three others–Nicky Factumana, Danilo Santos, and Joel Aradana–cried during the presscon, saying they have been keeping the pain in their hearts for years for their missing loved ones. Trauma even brought them fears of going back to the sea again, they said.

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With the compensation that they might get from the death declaration of their missing children, wife, mother and other relatives, they said they are hoping that they might be able to start something small.

PAO-8 Regional Director Nits Negado in turn committed himself  to assist the petitioners in asking the court for the issuance of the DPD on the missing family members of the Yolanda survivors.

"This is relatively fast than criminal cases. The presentation of evidence in court would consist only of the witness identifying his judicial affidavit. Mabilis lang talaga ang ganitong proseso. Maybe it will take one year," Negado added.

According to IDEALS, a family member, under Article 391 of  the New Civil Code of the Philippines, can file for the declaration of presumptive death after four years of disappearance for claiming death compensation benefits, succession, and other purposes.

At least 20 qualified petitioners were aided by IDEALS on the documentation and case building, before their petition finally reached the PAO-8 for filing and representation in court.

Based on the data obtained from the National Risk Reduction Management Committee, a total of 1,119 people in Leyte and Samar remain missing after four years when Yolanda killed more than 6,000.

Tacloban topped the number of missing people with 739, Palo town with 234, Tanauan (38), Albuera (12), Ormoc City (8), Dulag (9), Barugo (4), Sta. Fe (4)–all in Leyte province–and the towns of Basey (55), Guiuan (16), and Hernani (4)–all in Samar island. .

With the access to benefits and claims project of IDEALS, in partnership with Christian Aid and the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, about 126,000 survivors have also availed themselves of the reconstruction of damaged civil and legal documents. (FREEMAN)

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