Filipino UN staff member, four others found in Haiti collapsed building

by Kobakila News

PORT-AU PRINCE, Haiti – After almost a week since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck this country on January 12, the body of Jerome Yap, a personal assistant to one of the top officials of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), was found under the rubbles of the collapsed Christopher Hotel, which had housed the UN Headquarters.

JeromeYapYap, 45, a University of Santo Tomas graduate in Fine Arts, and a native of Pampanga, worked with Luiz Carlos da Costa, Principal Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General. Da Costa, together with his chief, Hedi Annabi, Special Representative, also perished in the quake that reduced the hotel to a pile of concrete slabs and shredded metal.

Aside from Yap, rescuers also found the body of Filipino soldier, Sgt. Eustacio Bermudez, on Tuesday night, January 20, at the same site, according to military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner. Bermudez had been working as a clerk at the UN building.

Other Filipinos who died in Haiti were identified as Duty Petty Officer Pearlie Panangui and Grace Fabian, an employee at a supermarket. Sgt. Janice Arocena remains missing as of press time.  According the AFP public affairs office, Bermudez, Panangui and Arocena were trapped at the second floor of the five-storey building, which collapsed.

Those who were rescued were Aurora Aguinaldo and Annalin Maning. The Departmen tof Foreign Affairs earlier said that a total of 462 Filipinos are in Haiti including 172 peacekeeeprs and 290 civilians.

In late December, Filipino peacekeepers were honored by the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for “their continued presence in Haiti and helping ensure stability in this impoverished Caribbean country.” They were given medals.

Initial foreign wiere reports said thousands may have died in the strongest quake yet to hit Haiti in more than 200 years and the civil war-wrecked country is in “total disaster and chaos.”

The Haitian government said 75,000 people had been killed, with another 250,000 injured and more than a million left homeless.

Yap Family Photo

Yap Family Photo

Meanwhile, in the Philippine Consulate in New York, a memorial mass and ecumenical service was held January 19. The family of Yap paid tribute to their brother who they said was kind and compassionate and had friends everywhere he went in the world.

“All I have are good memories of my brother; he loved to laugh and make people laugh,” said Marnie, sister of Yap.

Donna Maxfield of UN Peacekeeping operations said Yap was someone “who inspired us to serve. He wanted to improve the lives of others and served in Haiti.”¬† She added that Yap “personied the ideals of the UN to make ultimate sacrifice in the course of peace.”

Hilario Davide, Philippine Ambassador to the UN, offered prayers for those who died in Haiti. “In suffering, we must be united and together because in it gives genuine peace,” he said. “Jerome made the supreme sacrifice for the love of humanity.”

On the other hand, Consul General Cecille Rebong requested the audience to help Haiti in their time of need. “We turn to our Creator for strength, for faith and hope.¬† Today we grieve the death of our compatriotts and pray for those who have not yet been found,” she said.

Since international search and rescue teams began combing through the debris, more than 90 people have been pulled out alive, the United Nations said Tuesday, January 19. Elizabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told AFP: “This is always good news. Our rescue and humanitarian efforts are now concentrated outside of Port-au-Prince.”

By Saturday, more than 70 people had been freed from under collapsed buildings by the teams, according to the UN. This means that about 20 people were rescued five or six days after the earthquake struck.

Besides the capital, the earthquake has wreaked massive damage on nearby cities, including Jacmel to the south of the capital, and Carrefour, Gressier and Leoganne, to the west.

OCHA said the immediate priorities for relief agencies remained “medical assistance, corpse management, shelter, water and food and sanitation.”

While food and tents are arriving in the country, the UN agency said access to fuel — essential for the transport of relief items — continues to be an issue.

The World Food Programme is now planning to move 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel a day from neighbouring Dominican Republic to help relieve the situation, said OCHA in its latest situation report.

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