Press Release
June 24, 2013

Hero bus driver honored in the Senate

The hero driver of sunken MV Our Lady of Mount Carmel who saved some of its passengers was feted in the Senate Monday afternoon by Sen. Ralph G. Recto.

Recto said the selfless act of Novelito "Junjun" Gomez was exemplary and serves as a notice of the Filipino's unwavering bravery.

"I wish to do what you've done should I find myself in the same situation," the senator said, who personally sought a personal meeting with Gomez.

Recto said the likes of Gomez, who are ready to put their lives on the line to save their fellow countrymen, were becoming a rarity.

The senator promised Gomez to help him look for another driving job.

Gomez, a 31-year old native Bicolano, said he just wanted to save more during that fateful early morning.

He regretted failing to bring to safety one of the senior passengers who perished from the sinking of the RoRo vessel.

"One of the older passengers panicked, jumped and hit the railing which caused her death," Gomez told the senator at his Senate office.

Gomez was one of the drivers of the bus that was on the vessel when it sank off Burias Island. When the ship was going down very fast, he first woke up his fellow driver, Joey Lopez.

Gomez said he immediately thought of saving his friend Lopez, who does not know how to swim. "I went to where he was sleeping and swiftly plucked him out of the bus that was already half-submerged in seawater. I did not know how I was able to pull him up since he was taller and heavier than me," Gomez told an earlier radio interview.

Carol Tan, a passenger, said it was Gomez who told her to stay put and that everything would turn out fine.

"While I was already very frantic because the ship was sinking very fast, this man came to my rescue and told me to calm down. He asked me to follow him in climbing the still floating portion of the ship," Tan said.

Gomez also quickly grabbed seven-month-old Kyle Toquero, who nearly drowned in the ship cabin.

He handed the baby to a lady doctor who was aboard the ferry.

Sensing that the ship would soon totally sink, Gomez jumped into the hanging life jackets and lifeboats, quickly untied them then threw them to the passengers.

"He was so composed yet quick in doing what he had to do. He even assured us to stay relaxed and we will be all alive. That we will simply stay floating and the rescuers would soon arrive," a survivor said.

Gomez said he herded the passengers to the rear portion of the ship because it would be the last to sink.

"The ship shook as if it hit a solid object, then we saw its front already sinking and tilting to the left," Gomez said.

Two people died in the sea accident off Burias Island in Masbate two Fridays ago, while seven remained missing.

Gomez admitted that his experiences while he was still a fisherman in Sorsogon guided him on what to do when he saw that the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel was about to go under.

"I was often placed in this kind of situation when I was still a fisherman. I learned that staying composed during emergencies will help you survive," Gomez said.

A native of Bulan, Sorsogon, Gomez said he also frequently crosses the turbulent Ticao Pass, a famous dive site which is said to have strong currents, to visit the relatives of his mother in Ticao Island.

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