PANTUKAN, Compostela Valley (MindaNews/27 Apr) – Five days after a landslide struck a gold mining site, 48-year-old Lolita Jostol believes that her son is still alive and may have hidden inside the tunnel after her other son survived the tragedy.
Her 21-year-old son Jerry survived the landslide but his younger brother Alejandro,16, is among the 10 still missing persons. The Jostols are from Barangay Lasang, Davao City.
Both her sons, she said, worked the tunnel of her younger brother Cristituto Torrejos Sr., who is also among those still missing.
“The last time we saw each other was last month when he visited us and he gave me P490 while he also gave money to his brothers and sisters,” recalled the mother of six.
Jostol said Jerry is still at the hospital and in need of additional medical checkups because he is still vomiting blood and complaining of chest pains. “I badly need financial assistance because the doctor has recommended a CT-scan and I can’t afford it,” she said.
Both her sons, the teary-eyed mother said, stopped schooling early this year and worked at his brother’s tunnel to help make both ends meet since their father could no longer work after a vehicular accident two years ago.
Jerry was on his third year high school while Alejandro, second, in a high school in Davao when they stopped attending classes to be miners.
While she admitted that Alejandro is still too young to be engaged in such backbreaking job, Jostol said it was her children who chose to work in the mines. Both started to work at the tunnel December last year.
“I was always out working, selling whatever I can sell to help sustain the family. That’s why I left Junjun (Alejandro) in the care of my brother. But Junjun decided that he should work so he could help the family,” she said.
Jostol said she tried to have their small coconut farm leased but nobody wanted it.
Three of the 13 casualties were also minors –Marjun Guilabtan, 18; Pio Dennis Calapis, 17; and Junric Torrejos,15. One of the survivors is Zeffrey Tunday, 15.
Jostol added that her brother has been working at the gold-rush site for 15 years but they had just moved recently to Sitio Panganason-B from their older tunnel just within the village.
“I hope the rescue workers will not stop looking for my son as well as for the other miners who were trapped. I have a strong feeling that my son is still alive. I believe that God will help my son,” she asserted.
Jostol is still hoping even as rescuers believe the chances of recovering survivors five days after the accident are slim.
Rescue workers estimate that dirt and rubble is about 20 meters deep that they have to use a backhoe during the first three days of the rescue operations.
But the backhoe was seen on its way back to the town proper late Tuesday afternoon and MindaNews learned that the rescue and retrieval operations are now being done manually using shovels.
Meanwhile, Arnulfo Lantaya, spokesperson of the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Council (MRRDC), admitted during a press briefing on Tuesday that there are minors working in the different gold-rush sites.
But he stressed it does not mean that they are being forced by their parents to work. “They just want to help or contribute to meet their daily needs,” he stressed.
Lantaya, however, could not estimate how many of the 8,000 to 10,000 small-scale miners in barangays Kingking and Napnapan are minors. These barangays are the most populated among several the gold-rush sites, which started sometime in 1982. (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)