A FILIPINO mother and her two children were among the 298 passengers who were killed after a Malaysian Airlines jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down while traversing eastern Ukraine, the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed on Friday.
DFA spokesman Charles Jose identified the Filipinos as 54-year-old Irene Gunawan, her daughter Sherryl Shania Gunawan, 20, and son Darryl Dwight Gunawan, 15, all Philippine passport holders who indicated in their passport applications that they were residents of the Netherlands.
Mrs. Gunawan and her children were also accompanied by her Indonesian husband Bujanto Gunawan and were on their way to the Philippines to attend a family reunion, Irene’s sister said in an interview with ABS-CBN radio station dzMM.
ABS-CBN News found the Gunawan’s relatives in Quezon province.
Her sister said Irene was able to send a text message to a sister-in-law before their plane left Amsterdam and Irene was worried about her relatives in the Philippines because of Typhoon Glenda, ABS-CBN reported.
Between sobs, Irene’s sister noted that it was the first time she bade goodbye in a text message: “She never says bye. Only this times, she texted ‘Bye,’ then ‘love you.’
A brother, Celso Pabillon, said Irene was the breadwinner of her extended family in the Philippines.
“Siya nga ang breadwinner namin [She is our breadwinner],” said Irene’s brother Celso Pabillon. “She sent my child to school. All she ever did was to help us.”
Irene’s kin said they wanted to collect the remains of the Gunawan’s from Ukraine, but they were uncertain about the situation.
“We are praying, but fate seems to have given us a situation where we cannot do anything.” Celso added.
Irene’s relatives are instead asking the DFA to bring home the remains of Irene and her two children.
Malacañang, on the other hand, condoled with kin of the Gunawans and the other passengers of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 that is believed to have been shot down by ground-to-air missiles fired by Ukrainian separatist guerillas.
“The Philippines joins the entire global community in expressing its deepest sympathies” to the families of the 298 people on board, said Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.
“The government is one with the international community in calling for a thorough and swift inquiry on this incident,” Coloma said.
“We offer our sincerest condolences to the families of all the victims, recognizing full well the enormity of their loss,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a separate statement.
“At this difficult time, we stand with them in solidarity as one people and one country,” she said, adding that the Philippines embassies in Malaysia and the Netherlands “are coordinating with Malaysia Airlines and other authorities, in order to secure more information regarding the tragedy to assist the affected families.”
The DFA said they are still determining whether the Gunawans were headed to Kuala Lumpur as their final destination or they will be transiting to another country, like the Philippines.
“We have to check the status of the investigation being conducted by the airlines and governments concerned,” Jose said.
“Our embassies in Kuala Lumpur and The Netherlands are ready to assist, especially if the next of kin would like to visit or if the family would like to repatriate their remains back to the country,” he said.
Aside from the three Filipinos, there were 154 Dutchmen, 27 Australians, 23 Malaysians, 11 Indonesians, six Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, and one Canadian on board the plane that also had 15 Malaysian crew members also perished in the crash.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said a team of 62 Malaysians will be flown to Amsterdam to support families of passengers of the plane.
“Malaysia Airlines takes its responsibilities to the next-of-kin seriously,” said Liow.
“30 [members of the team] are from the Special Malaysia Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team, 15 are medical staff, while 10 are Royal Malaysia Air Force representatives, five are Malaysia Airlines staff and two are Department of Civil Aviation staff,” said Liow.
Liow announced the dispatch of the team after rescue workers at the plane’s crash site reported that they had found one of the black boxes from the passenger liner.
Emergency crews were working through the debris of the downed jet that was spread out across an area stretching for kilometers while rebels controlling the area have pledged to allow international investigators access to the site.
Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, distraught and sobbing relatives poured into Schiphol airport as the nation reeled from the news 154 of its citizens were aboard the plane.
Bewildered family members of those traveling on the ill-fated jet were whisked away into a restaurant on the upper deck of the airport, shielded from massing journalists, then boarded buses headed for an unknown destination.
Malaysian Airlines vice president Huib Gorter told a press briefing at Schiphol that a plane would take victims’ relatives to Ukraine to visit the crash site if they wished to make the trip.
Red, white and blue Dutch flags were lowered to half-mast inside the country and at embassies around the world.
“I am deeply saddened by this horrible news,” King Willem-Alexander said in a statement. “Our thoughts go to the families, friends and colleagues of the victims, and to those who do not know yet if one of their loved ones was on board the plane.”
Meanwhile, in Kuala Lumpur, signs at the international airport directed relatives and friends of passengers on board the ill-fated plane to the Anjung Tinjau viewing gallery as they coped with the shock of losing their loved ones.
It should have been a time for celebration in the predominately Muslim country of Malaysia, as families prepare for festivities to mark the end of the Ramadan fasting period. Instead the country is in shock from a second air tragedy in four months.
Nuraini Mohd Noor sobbed at the loss of her sister Nurahimah, who was flying home to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr in late July, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Nurahimah, a 67-year-old Geneva resident, had planned a six-week vacation with her family, her first trip home in five years.
“She was on transit in Amsterdam before returning for Hari Raya,” Nuraini said. Family members in Geneva confirmed Nurahimah was on the flight, she said.
For the relatives of passengers, this time is different. Four months ago, there were so many families at the airport that it was difficult to walk through the departure lounge to the waiting area set aside for their use.
Outside the area reserved for families, a woman who asked to be identified only as Umi said her cousin Wan Amran Wan Hussin was one of the pilots. The Star Newspaper in Malaysia also identified Amran as a pilot on the flight, citing his nephew.
“If it dropped into the ocean, that’s different,” Umi told reporters. “But this one, it fell onto the ground, and it was bombed and exploded before falling to the ground. Chances of survival, zero.” She said Amran’s wife, who has two sons, 10 and 8 years old, was still in a state of disbelief.
Among those at the airport was Siti Dina, who said her 45-year-old daughter was traveling with her Dutch husband to Melbourne, with a transit in Kuala Lumpur. With them were their three children, 15, 12, and 8 years old.
“I was shocked,” Siti said as she arrived at the airport. “I got the news at 12:30 -- my friend called up. That’s why I’m coming now to check on the information, before I know what to do next.”
There were 43 Malaysians on board, including crew, the airline said, with passengers from Australia, the U.K., Germany, Belgium, Indonesia, Canada and the Philippines.
Cor Pan, whose Facebook page listed his home as the northern Dutch town of Volendam, posted a photo of the plane as he was boarding, adding the line: “Mocht hij verdwijnen, zo ziet hij d’r uit,” or “in case it disappears, this is how it looks.”
Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe’s largest energy company, said three of its employees were on board.
Many passengers on board Flight 17 were en route to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Australia, Michel Sidibe, executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS said on his Twitter page. With AFP and Bloomberg
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