Philippine President Pays Respect to Soldiers Killed in Plane Crash

BenarNews staff
Zamboanga, Philippines
2021-07-05
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Philippine President Pays Respect to Soldiers Killed in Plane Crash Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks to the nation from Zamboanga after paying respect to the coffins of soldiers killed Sunday in a C-130 plane crash on Jolo island, July 5, 2021.
Philippines Presidential Communications Office

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte paid his respect on Monday to the flag-draped coffins of soldiers who died when a military transport plane crashed on Jolo Island a day earlier, and after troops recovered the last five bodies of those killed.

The C-130 plane with 96 people aboard, including three pilots and five other crew members, overshot the runway, broke in half and burst into flames on Sunday while trying to land in Patikul town, Sulu province. Officials said 49 of those on board and three civilians were killed.

“The life of a soldier is always valuable, whether in the fields of fighting or events such as this,” Duterte said in a national television broadcast from Zamboanga City where he paid his respect. “They died for our country and for that I’m very grateful to those who died and those who suffered and are still suffering now.

“We are all suffering. But the best we can really do, the most important thing is to ensure that they shall not have died in vain. They died for our country and it behooves upon us to continue the help.”

He vowed to extend support to survivors and victims who remain hospitalized.  

“I commiserate with you and I am as sorrowful as you, as your commander-in-chief, I bear the most pain. They lost their lives,” he said. “I am at a loss for words, so I’ll end here or else I’ll end up crying here like you.”

Earlier, the armed forces issued a statement that all on the plane were accounted for, noting 47 troops and four civilians were injured.

“Meanwhile, the search for the black box of the crashed C-130 is still ongoing,” the statement said.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said an investigation was under way to determine the cause of the crash as he called on the public to avoid speculating. The C-130 was carrying troops heading to the region join the fight against militant group Abu Sayyaf.

“We are determined to find out what really transpired in this very tragic incident,” Arevalo told an online press briefing.

Arevalo said the investigation so far points to an accident, adding the possibility that it was attacked was remote.

“So far, there are no indications,” Arevalo said.

He said immediately available information showed the pilots followed landing protocols.

“What is yet to be determined is what caused the aircraft to exceed the runway,” he said, noting that a “select group of tested pilots” has been appointed to assist in the investigation.

“Accidents like this do happen, we are very sad about that. But within what is humanely possible, we will determine what caused it and if there are adjustments or modification in SOP we are going to do that,” he said, referring to standard operating procedures.

Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros issued a statement in support of the troops and their survivors.

“The government should ensure that all benefits due their families will be released without delay and they be accorded the proper military honors upon burial,” Hontiveros said Monday. “Grief this expansive calls for clarity and commitment. Let us do better in protecting the very people who protect our country.

“It is my hope that a closer investigation of this matter will ensure the protection of our brave men and women in uniform in their future deployments,” Hontiveros said.

While the aircraft was not acquired new, it was in very good condition, Arevalo said, adding that when delivered in January it had more than 11,000 flight hours remaining before its next scheduled maintenance. 

All the pilots were all seasoned air force personnel, and the C-130 is considered to be “one of the sturdiest, strongest aircraft we have in the inventory,” Arevalo said. 

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A soldier secures the perimeter near the tail of a C-130 plane at its crash site in Sulu province, southern Philippines, July 5, 2021. [AP]

C-130s grounded

The crashed airplane was one of five C-130 aircraft in the Philippine Air Force fleet. Two others were being serviced out of the country, while the remaining two have been grounded pending investigation.

The crash was the latest in a series involving military and police aircraft.

Previously, six soldiers were killed when a newly acquired Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a night-training flight on June 23, two months after a MG-520 attack helicopter went down in the central Philippines, killing its pilot.

In January, a refurbished UH-1H Vietnam-era Huey helicopter crashed in the south, killing seven soldiers. 

In September 2020, an Air Force helicopter used as an air ambulance crashed en route to the southern island of Jolo, killing four crew members. Two months earlier, four soldiers were killed when their Huey chopper crashed after takeoff in the northern province of Isabela. 

In March 2020, the country’s police chief and three police generals were among eight people injured when their Bell 429 helicopter crashed near Manila.

The Abu Sayyaf is a small militant group considered a terrorist organization by the government, officials said.

One faction operating out of Jolo has been led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, the Philippine leader of the Islamic State. He has not been heard from since last year and military officials have said they believe he died during a clash with troops but his body has not been recovered.

Sawadjaan’s group has been carrying out deadly attacks since January 2019 when it deployed an Indonesian couple to carry out a suicide bomb attack on a cathedral in Jolo, killing 21 and themselves. The following year, a similar attack near the cathedral left 14 dead. 

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales in Cotabato City, Philippines, Richel V. Umel and Froilan Gallardo in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, and Dempsey Reyes in Manila contributed to this report.

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