A non-governmental organization assists surviving families of Typhoon Yolanda in filing a Petition for Declaration of Presumptive Death for their missing family members whose whereabouts remains unknown until now.

The Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS), an alternative legal group, said that the legal aid is part of the implementation of their project Cooperation to Ensure Legal Documentation and Access to Claims for the Injured, the Missing, and the Dead during Typhoon Haiyan (CLAIMED-MDM).

Four years after Yolanda

In a press conference entitled “Remember the Missing” on Nov. 7 at Ironwood Hotel, Tacloban City, the organization explained that the petition for Declaration of Presumptive Death is a way for the families to slowly move on from the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.

“The surviving families are still in pain and without closure from their missing loved ones. We want the court decree (declaring a person as presumably dead) to help them move on from this tragedy,” said Atty. Anne Bernadette Mendiola of IDEALS Inc.

Ronillo Docos, one of the petitioners, is a fisherman and a survivor of Typhoon Yolanda. He said that his family wants to file for a death declaration to be able to move forward from the traumatic experience and to have closure for his missing mother, Natividad Docos, 70.

The elderly Docos was washed away by the storm surges during the onslaught of the typhoon. The Docos family looked for her for three months but nothing happened.

“Nagtatanong-tanong kami sa mga tao, sabi namin sabihin niyo samin agad. Tapos nung wala namang bumabalik, sabi namin ‘tama na to’ (We kept asking around, and told the people to tell us [if they saw our mother]. Though, when nobody came back, we decided, ’let’s stop this’),” Ronillo recalled.

Docos hopes that one day he won’t be going to the sea anymore because it scares him. With the compensation that they might get from the death declaration of his mother, Docos hopes that they might be able to start something small.

Protecting the rights of the missing

Under Article 391 of the New Civil Code of the Philippines, a family member can file for the declaration of presumptive death after four years from the disappearance for claiming death compensation benefits, succession, and for other purposes.

Additionally, under the Family Code of the Philippines, in order for a married person to re-marry, he or she must institute a summary proceeding for the judicial declaration of presumptive death after four or two years, depending on the fact of disappearance, and present the court decree for the Declaration of Presumptive Death of their missing spouse.

The court decree will be submitted to file for death compensation benefits and services in the absence of an official death certificate.

In a span of six months, 20 qualified petitioners were aided by IDEALS on their documentation and case-building. The case studies of the petitioners were turned over to the Public Attorney’s Office Region 8 for filing and for free representation in court.

Mendiola said that declaring the death of missing Typhoon Yolanda victims can be tricky as there are no established mechanisms and rules on mass death declarations due to calamities.

“We hope that this case will prosper because this can help establish a mechanism wherein the rights of the missing persons, the surviving families, and the public can be better protected and preserved, especially during calamities and tragedies such as Typhoon Yolanda,” Mendiola said.

1,074 people remain missing according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Committee.

The initiative is part of IDEALS’ Access to Benefits and Claims During Disaster (ABCD) Program in partnership with Christian Aid and the Humanitarian Leadership Academy. IDEALS also implemented ABCD back in 2013 for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda where more than 126,000 people were given their reconstructed damaged civil and legal documents. #

NGO assists in filing death declaration for missing “Yolanda” victims

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