PANTUKAN, Compostela Valley (MindaNews/08 January) – Mayor Celso Sarenas defended his decision allowing people from other places to work in the gold rush sites, saying they were in dire need of money to feed their families.
Sarenas issued the statement to reporters on Saturday evening amid the order of Department of Interior and Local Government Sec. Jesse Robredo to close tunnels in the high-risk areas.
Robredo, who visited this town on Friday, also ordered the demolition of houses in “no habitation” zones in the gold rush sites following the landslide early morning of Thursday, January 5, that killed at
least 31 persons. Thirty-nine others were reported missing.
Sarenas admitted he tolerated the entry of miners in his town, saying he understood that they had no other sources of income back in their own provinces.
“Naawa din ako sa kanila kasi kumakalam din ang tiyan nila, kailangan nilang kumain. Ibinuwis nila ang buhay nila nung pumunta sila dito. Kasi pagpasok pa lang nila sa tunnel, 90% na silang patay,” (I also pity them because I know they’re starving, they need to eat. They risked their lives here. Upon entering the tunnel they’re already 90% dead) the mayor explained.
He added they could not determine the exact number of small-scale miners in the gold rush sites in barangays Kingking and Napnapan, the most populated gold rush sites.
“They have this thing called shifting. Others would enter the tunnel for 24 to 48 hours to mine. They would come out bringing rocks for processing, and move to another tunnel” Sarenas said in Filipino, adding this practice made it difficult for the local government to determine the exact population in a certain gold rush site.
He admitted they could not easily force the people to leave the area because they would resist and some are believed to be armed.
But he clarified that only those living areas classified as high-risk by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) will be forced to leave.
Many of the miners working in the gold rush sites came from different provinces who had no other means to feed their families, Sarenas said.
One of the casualties, Rogelio Sanchez,56, was from General Santos City. Others came from other towns of the province such as Banaybanay, Laak, Mawab, Mabini and Maco. Some came from the neighboring province Davao Oriental.
The mayor said some happened to have friends and relatives who were already working in the area. One of them was 41-year old Elmer Torred Sr., who was among the casualties. He had come all the way from Dinagat Island Province, which used to be part of Surigao del Norte.
His widow Imelda told Mindanews that her husband had worked as security guard at Hexat Mining Corporation for two years already.
She added it was the husband of her cousin, a miner at Hexat, who invited her husband to work for the company.
“Fishing was our only livelihood back home. Life was really hard there that’s why we went to this mining site,” she said in the dialect.
Elmer’s son and namesake said the last time they were together with their father was on December 3 last year.
“Wala na gyud kami naka Christmas ug New Year kay di daw siya makauli kay sayang man plete pauli sa amoa,” (We did not spend Christmas and New Year together. He said he wouldn’t come home because it was too expensive to travel) the son said.
From this town, it takes at least seven hours to Surigao City by bus and a two-hour boat ride to Dinagat Island.
Imelda said they were supposed to move in nearby Mabini town, also in Compostela Valley, this month.
Daughters Emerchene, 16, and Christine, 15, arrived at their father’s wake at a funeral parlor in Mabini on Saturday morning.
As they arrived, a loud wail echoed inside the funeral shop where five other casualties were also taken.
Imelda said they will take her husband back to Dinagat on Sunday evening so that they can catch the trip to the island before lunchtime.
“The company will help us in bringing my husband’s remains home, and the local government of Pantukan also gave us P5,000,” she said in the dialect.
But she said she was unsure how to raise her children back home. (Keith Bacongco/MindaNews)