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Wrong Man Inside the Coffin

I do not believe that any other story has filled me with so much mixed emotions as this one I just saw on the prime time news. I was horrified; but there was also something about the way it was told that as much as I tried not to, it also made me want to laugh.

First, the sad part: a Filipino overseas contract worker from Digos City in Davao del Sur was killed in Saudi Arabia by an acetylene tank explosion along with several of his co-workers. This, I can imagine, is the sort of news anybody who has an immediate relative working abroad dreads to ever hear.

Now, as could be expected, the body of the deceased was sent in a wooden coffin all the way from the Middle East to Davao del Sur.

In a previous article, I had written how it was almost unbearable for me to personally grieve the death of my own father because he died in Houston and it was impossible for me to fly over to attend the wake. I strongly feel that the bereaved need to be beside the remains of the deceased so that they may arrive at acceptance and, subsequently, closure.

I could therefore vividly imagine the anxiety of the family of the deceased OFW in Digos as they awaited the arrival of his remains. But then, the story took an unexpected twist that I can best describe as simply preposterous.

When the coffin was opened, lo and behold, inside it was not the dead man they were expecting at all. From what I could discern from watching the short news video clip, the body was charred as can only be expected from the tragic accident that happened in Saudi Arabia.

Relatives of the deceased OFW, though, immediately knew that it was not their man inside that box. They were interviewed by the news team, and pardon me, but this part was when it started to sound even comical.

“Eh 5’ 4” lang naman ‘yung namatay,” I think this was the wife who was telling the news reporter, “eh ‘yan (she gestured to the remains inside the coffin) ay 5’ 9”.”

Then she went on, “Tsakâ balbon yan, ‘yun namang sa amin hindî.”

“Eh ‘yan,” I think that was the daughter this time talking, gesticulating towards the body in the coffin, “ay hindî pustiso, ‘yung namatay namin naka-pustiso!” She concluded, “Tsaka dapat may nunal sa likod, eh ito naman walâ.”

Apparently, the case of mistaken identities started right in the hospital where the victims of the explosion were first taken. The body of the Filipino OFW, burnt as it was, was mistakenly labelled with the name of one of his local co-workers. When both eventually succumbed, it never occurred to the hospital personnel to verify the identities of the cadavers and one thing just led to the other as a matter of course.

The family from Digos, naturally, wanted the remains of the two fatalities exchanged. You would think that something like this would be pretty straightforward; and in all honesty, it should. However, in a story as insane as this one, straightforward just does not apply.

Regrettably, the body of the deceased OFW has already been buried by a Saudi family that thought they were burying the body that was, instead, making a transcontinental journey all the way to Davao del Sur. This Saudi family has been advised about the error has already sent a request to the family in Davao for their relative to be given a proper Muslim burial.

Muslim law, however, forbids the exhumation of bodies from their graves. Life – and, in this case, death – can be so eff-ing unfair, would you not say?

The poor OFW who crossed the oceans just so he could send money back to his family and who was just probably hoping to save enough to one day be able to come home for good now rests in a land far away in a grave that is not even his.

That is so sad.

As for the family he left behind in Digos, never mind that they were so graphic in describing their deceased loved one, I hope they can find a way to attain closure which I, however, know from personal experience can be so difficult without a body to grieve over and subsequently bury.

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