MANILA, DEC. 23 (WEDNESDAY) -- Hundreds of stunned friends and relatives gathered on the capital's north pier yesterday, seeking news of passengers who were aboard the interisland ferry that burned and sank Sunday after colliding with an oil tanker 110 miles south of Manila.
Authorities reported that 20 bodies were recovered during thorough searches yesterday, leaving unaccounted for 1,532 passengers and 58 crew of the Dona Paz and 13 crewmen of the tanker Victor, which also sank. Twenty-six survivors were found in the first hours after the collision. The ferry owner released the new figures after saying Monday that 1,493 passengers were aboard.
Lt. Cmdr. Cipriano Luspo of the Coast Guard said authorities would decide today whether to call off the search for survivors and bodies of victims.
The most dramatic development yesterday was the unconfirmed report that fishermen had discovered a 27th survivor, a 4-year-old boy, clinging to a piece of wood near the shore of Mindoro Island, 10 miles from the site of the collision.
Antonio Babijes, director of the rescue coordination center here, quoted a radio message from the provincial governor's office. But this morning, more than 12 hours later, a spokesman for Babijes said the report had not been confirmed. Communications with the island are difficult.
President Corazon Aquino called the disaster "a national tragedy of harrowing proportions. Our sadness is all the more painful because the tragedy struck with the approach of Christmas." She pledged an "unsparing and full-scale investigation" of the disaster, which occurred in a heavily traveled ship channel between the Philippine islands of Mindoro and Marinduque.
In Manila, the agony for friends and relatives of the victims dragged through a second day with few details. Some stood in silence under a leaden sky, while others bitterly accused the ferry's owner, the Sulpicio Lines, of ignoring their pleas for information. "If they're alive or dead, let us know. If we can get to see the dead, it's good enough," said Zozimo Mabag, who awaited word about his sister.
Aurora Tan also sought news of a sister, Natividad Lacaba, who was taking the ferry to spend the holidays with Tan's family here.
Tan said she had tried in vain to get information from officials of Sulpicio Lines, and so she stood waiting on the pier with nearly a thousand others.
Josephina Pamor waited stoically for word of her husband, who had sent her a telegram from Samar Island on Dec. 19 telling her he would be arriving aboard the Dona Paz.
Sulpicio Lines officials later released the updated figures but refused to comment on reports that the ferry, licensed to carry 1,500 people, was overloaded with the holiday travelers.
Jose Legaspi was to have returned to Manila from a vacation in the central Philippines several days ago, but a typhoon delayed him, said his daughter, Paula Legaspi. The elder Legaspi boarded the first available ferry, the ill-fated Dona Paz, in the Leyte island port of Tacloban, she said.
"We were told that since there were no more tickets available, they let a lot of people pay for tickets on the spot and then let them board the ship," said the daughter. "So there's a very big possibility that these people were not on the official list of passengers and their names will not be on the manifest. Just the same, we're hoping for news."
On Monday, "we went to the main office of Sulpicio Lines, but nobody paid any attention to my questions. We were here on Pier 12 last night but nobody wants to talk to us. After going to the main office, the people there told us to go to the Coast Guard, but the Coast Guard told us to go back to Pier 12. We don't know where we should really go," she said.