Image Source: – AFP Photo / HNADOUT / US Coast Guard

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana — Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia has rejected insinuations that the Filipino workers were responsible for the November 16 fire and explosion on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

The fire and explosion killed three Filipino workers and injured three others.

Earlier news reports in the New Orleans media and Internet, which quoted unnamed sources, stated the accident could have been caused by the incompetence of the Filipino workers and their poor English language proficiency.[box type=”default” size=”large”] Firm’s exec also defends, praises Filipino workers [/box]“I will be doing Ellroy Corporal, Avelino Tajonera and the other injured Filipinos a great injustice if I do not speak out and express my disappointment and dismay over unfair insinuations in media that our workers are to be blamed for the accident,” Cuisia said when he delivered here a eulogy during necrological services for two of the dead victims.

“The nine Filipinos who were on that platform on November 16 would not have been there if they did not pass stringent training, safety and language requirements both here in the United States and back home in the Philippines,” he said. “These men also have extensive experience in the oil and gas industry abroad and with such giants as Shell, Chevron and British Petroleum.”

Ambassador Cuisia’s sentiments were echoed by Mark Pregeant, president and chief executive officer of Grand Isle Shipyard Inc., the contracting company that deployed the workers.

“Those gentlemen did not cut the wrong line. These gentlemen did not cut that piece of pipe with a torch,” said Pregeant in disputing reports that the fire was triggered by the wrong use of a torch by the workers.

In his eulogy, Pregeant also paid tribute to Filipino offshore workers by recalling their contribution to the efforts to restore Louisiana’s oil production levels in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“I do not have one customer who has something bad to say about Filipino workers. Let there be no mistake about that,” Pregeant said.

A co-worker of the victims, Romeo Capili, also expressed his disappointment over the reports.

“It broke my heart to see something in the Internet that we Filipinos are incompetent. If that were the case, probably, we Filipinos would not have been asked to come back and work here since 2005,” he said.

Meanwhile, latest Philippine Embassy reports stated that the death toll in the explosion and fire stood at three after authorities positively identified the last body recovered as that of missing Filipino worker Jerome Malagapo.

“We are deeply saddened to learn that we lost our kababayan, Jerome Malagapo,” Cuisia said after he was informed by the Coroner’s Office of Lafourche Parish that the remains were those of the 28-year-old fitter from Danao City, Cebu.

“We console ourselves with the thought that Jerome has been found and will be reunited with his loved ones,” Cuisia said after he received a call from Mark Goldman, chief investigator of the Lafourche Parish Coroner’s Office, after attending the necrological services for Ellroy Corporal and Avelino Tajonera in Cut Off, Louisiana.

Afterwards, the ambassador informed Malagapo’s wife Joanne, his father Francisco and other members of his family of the positive identification made based on dental records submitted  from the Philippines.

Cuisia said Malagapo’s body was found about 20 miles from the ill-fated platform that he and eight other Filipinos were working on at the time of the fire.

The retrieval of Malagapo’s remains came three days after Tajonera, 49-year-old welder from Bataan, died due to  complications from the serious burns he suffered in the fire and explosion that also claimed the life of Corporal, a 42-year-old rigger from Iligan City.

In a related development, reports from the Philippine consulate in Chicago stated that two of the three Filipinos who suffered burns in the fire and explosion have been taken off the critical list.

Renato Dominguez, 52, a pipefitter, showed signs of recovery last December 1 when he recognized his wife, Eva Dominguez, at his bedside in Baton Rouge General Hospital and asked for a kiss.

“When Rey gestured that he wanted a kiss, I knew the worst was over,” a staff of the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C., said, quoting Eva, 49-year-old accountant, mother of three and resident of Bataan.

“I thank God for hearing the prayers of my family and the Filipino people,” she said.

The identity of the other burn victim, who is also recuperating, was withheld upon the request of the family.

The third Filipino burn victim, Wilberto Ilagan, was described as in “good condition.” Ilagan, 50, welder, who hails from Batangas, can now walk unaided.

Another Philippine official who went to Baton Rouge to condole with the families of Tajonera and Malagapo was Consul General Leo M. Herrera-Lim, head of the Philippine Midwest consulate based in Chicago.

Herrera-Lim also visited the three burn victims and their families. Also in Baton Rouge were Labor Attache Luzviminda Padilla and Welfare Officer Saul de Vries of the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C.

During the necrological services, Ambassador Cuisia conveyed the condolences of President Aquino and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to the Malagapo and Tajonera families. (With report by Joseph Lariosa)