by Totie Mesia and Mariso Ocampo
Desiring to help, many jumped instinctively into the river. With prodding from Naga Policeman Delfin Platon who heroically calmed the frantic crowd, they fished out bodies and survivors until they got lame tired, way beyond exhaustion. Muscle cramps and fatigue overtook the shivering rescuers who got relief from ablutions of “oil of wintergreen,” a liquid balm given by nameless people in the crowd.
The injuries were as apparent as the telltale signs of drowning after the Colgante Bridge collapse. Electrical burns made victim recognition hard. Grimy detritus from river trash messed-up some victims’ bloodied faces whose fingers, in cadaveric flexion, looked as if they were in prayer. With rigor mortis, the bodies, were hastily covered by wet newspapers. Many on-lookers cried. Overwhelmed by the horrific scene, others threw up in the shadows of a black sky.
It’s the religious faith of those who perished in Colgante that sets them apart from those who died violently in car crashes, ship wrecks, fraternity hazings, or those needlessly trampled upon by the Wowowee crowd. The Colgante deaths remind the people of commercialism that has invaded the Penafrancia celebration. Business and religious faith seemed to have bonded together more closely in every fiesta raising questions whether this should be.
The Colgante tragedy which claimed the lives of about 140 people was quickly brushed aside from public attention when martial law was declared 4 days after by Ferdinand Marcos on September 21, 1972. The span where the gruesome deaths occurred should be aptly called “Faith Bridge,” in memory of those who died paying respects to the Virgin. Thirty-six years after the Colgante bridge collapse and 27 years after Ina vanished and returned, Bikol keeps a blurry recall and record of the events.
How many really died? Do we have a complete list of them who perished and suffered injuries in Colgante’s fall on September 16, 1972? Was there anyone made to answer for breach of duty? Were victims compensated at all, identified and given decent burials? Was there closure in every victim’s family?
The river deaths could have been avoided if the people didn’t crowd the bridge beyond its capacity to hold. Those in charge in the maintenance and safety could have known better. Perhaps if Colgante didn’t collapse, we wouldn’t be resigned in finding solace in “forgiving and forgetting” and invoking “God’s will.”
There could be loud merry shouts trailing “Viva la Virgen!” as the voyadores passed without thinking of the intransigent mysterious lady who rode the boat. The people could have safely stood on the bridge and prayed without fear of a great fall. And faith would still be there for God and the revered Virgin.-0-