Wife wants proof of Filipino’s death in Algeria hostageBy Tonette Orejas
Inquirer Central Luzon
APALIT, PAMPANGA—Estrella Santiago refuses to totally believe that her husband Iluminado—Bong to family and friends—was among the Filipinos killed by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in Algeria last week.
Estrella, 43, has asked the Department of Affairs (DFA) for a list of Filipino hostages taken to Italy and Germany to determine if her husband was with any of those groups.
She also appealed to the DFA to order DNA tests on recovered remains to determine if Bong was among those who perished during the rescue mounted by the Algerian military.
“Pardon my being skeptical but I hope there was no room for guessing [when they identified the victims]. I really want to be sure it is him,” Estrella told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Tuesday.
She still made her requests although she said the DFA had confirmed her husband’s death on Monday. A representative from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) had also called her, she said.
No body yet
However, an official of the labor agency which facilitated Bong’s employment said they had not seen his body.
“I still hope he is alive,” Estrella said.
Bong had been in Algeria for five years working as an electrician on an oil field project.
They have three children aged 13, 10 and 5. Estrella said she didn’t know how she would raise them on her teacher’s salary.
“As a husband and father, he was more than 10 [on a scale of 10]. He had no vices. When he was in the country, all his time was for our children,” she said.
Bong’s coworker and friend, Joseph Balmaceda, survived the terror and returned to the Philippines on Monday.
Balmaceda visited Bong’s family in this town on Tuesday and shared accounts of the tragedy, said Bong’s eldest son, Christian Dave.
“[Balmaceda] told us the terrorists were transferring the hostages out of the gas plant because they were going to bomb it. But as the convoy was heading out of the plant, the Algerian forces rushed to bomb the convoy,” Christian, 13, told the Inquirer.
As related by Balmaceda, he and Santiago were in the “last part of the fifth vehicle in the convoy,” the son said.
Balmaceda told Bong’s family he tried to wake their father up. “He had no wounds or traces of blood but he looked afraid. I’m sure Bong was in [that state] when I left him [to find safety],” he said.
Balmaceda said Santiago had asked the terrorists why they were taking hostages.
The terrorists replied they were angry at the British and the French.
Still they were used as human shields, Balmaceda said, forced by their captors to raise their hands whenever an Algerian military plane hovered over their location.
“[Bong] tried to assure us that we were going to be safe. He led us in prayers for a miracle,” Balmaceda said.
The son said Bong had built his family their “dream house” at Royal Family Homes here. Under 200 square meters, the two-story concrete home has a garage for a black Mitsubishi Adventure. The family moved in in December 2011. They used to rent a house in San Vicente, also in Apalit.
In Algiers, meanwhile, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said on Monday 37 foreigners of eight different nationalities and an Algerian were killed during the hostage-taking at the giant Tiguentourine gas complex, Agence France-Presse reported.
The toll was provisional and five foreigners were still missing, Sellal said. He did not give the nationalities of the fatalities.
Among those other official sources had confirmed as having died were one Frenchman, one American, two Romanians, three Britons, six Filipinos and seven Japanese nationals.
Four Filipinos were missing, the Philippine government said on Monday.
Local recruitment agencies in Manila have temporarily stopped deploying Filipino workers to Algeria.
But Philippine Overseas Employment Administration chief Hans Leo Cacdac clarified that the government was not imposing a deployment ban at this time.
“There is no deployment ban,” said Cacdac, explaining that it was some recruitment agencies that had agreed to suggest to their foreign principals a moratorium on the hiring of Filipinos. With reports from Tina G. Santos and AFP