MANILA, Philippines (AP) — As trash was carried from a plane that had just landed at Manila’s airport, a security officer on the tarmac spied something moving in one of the bags. He opened it, sifted through the rubbish and found a newborn baby wrapped with tissue paper and covered in blood.
"The baby was left for dead. It was already bluish in color," airport press officer Connie Bungag said. "He could have died in a matter of minutes if he was not found."
The story evoked pity and outrage around the world as Philippine authorities worked Monday to identify a mother who apparently gave birth on a commercial flight and abandoned the child in a trash bin on the plane.
The six pound, nine ounce (three kilogram) boy was among refuse unloaded by cleaners of a Gulf Air plane after its arrival Sunday from Bahrain, airport officials said.
The infant — still attached to the placenta — was taken to an airport clinic, where doctors and nurses cleaned him, gave him a checkup, wrapped him in cloth and mittens and warmed him under a light bulb, airport doctor Maria Teresa Agores said.
"He was healthy, his vital signs were OK," nurse Kate Calvo said.
Airport officials collected money to buy the baby clothes and milk, and as he fed from a bottle, the baby cried softly, Calvo said.
Airport workers also gave him another basic need — a name. They called him George Francis after Gulf Air’s code name GF.
The mystery baby was later turned over to social welfare officers assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Airport police said they were trying to locate one female passenger whose seat near the plane’s toilet was stained with blood. Officials got her name from the plane’s manifest and it appeared to be Filipino.
Gulf Air said it had launched an internal inquiry into the incident. The airline provides service throughout the Middle East.
"Our main priority is the welfare of the mother and baby," the airline said in an e-mailed response to questions. "We are currently working with the local authorities in the Philippines to help them locate his mother as soon as possible."
Gulf Air spokeswoman Katherine Kaczynska told the AP by phone that no one on the plane reported anything unusual during the flight. The Bahrain-based airline said the baby was discovered in an airplane toilet trash can, suggesting the mother gave birth in the bathroom during the flight.
Doctors who attended to the baby said he looked Filipino, fueling speculation in the local media that the boy’s mother could be a domestic worker in the Middle East. About one in 10 Filipinos works abroad, many as maids and laborers in the Middle East, to escape crushing poverty and unemployment at home.
"If she’s a migrant worker, this speaks of the ordeal our overseas workers go through," Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said.
But Manila Airport Manager Jose Angel Honrado said it was too early to draw conclusions since investigators had not yet identified the mother.
Soliman said the baby will be turned over to the mother’s relatives — if they can be found — or put up for adoption. The government will make sure the baby will get "the very best care" wherever he ends up, she said.
Associated Press writers Teresa Cerojano in Manila and Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.