SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/14 May) – “Unsaon man, dawaton na lang kay disgrasya man” (What can we do, it was an accident), says 18-year-old Berdan Avila, the lone survivor in a mining tunnel tragedy that killed seven young men early morning Thursday last week.
Avila is still recuperating at the Caraga Regional Hospital here and still awaiting several other X-ray results to determine his total condition, Dr. Chery Gotinga told MindaNews.
He said it was his father Bernardino and Manong Baste, who first came to the city and joined the gold rush area now in the middle of a debacle with a local water utility firm over the Capitol-initiated proposal to convert the illegal mining site into a “Minahang Bayan” or a people’s small-scale mining area.
Berdan only followed early in January join his Papa. But when asked why they had to leave their place, which according to him is still lush and green, the young man chose to keep quiet.
It was his stepmother, Angelita, who told this reporter that it was the promise of a good life that led her family to come to the small-scale mining area. “We were encouraged because we know some whose lives improved, who now have concrete houses,” Angelita said.
Berdan said he will go home to his hometown in San Agustin, Surigao del Sur to recuperate, but he will return in Sitio Pinaypayan, Barangay Mat-i, this city, to enter another tunnel and look for gold.
“His condition is improving,” Gotinga said, adding that attending doctors made the patient undergo a head and elbow scan to determine his full condition. The patient is said to have suffered an abrasion at the back of his head, which Gotinga said could explain why he still suffers nausea.
It was still 7:30 in the morning of Thursday when Berdan’s Uncle Julius told fellow abanteros Jomar “Loloy” Estrella and Dexter Antipac (not Antipaz as earlier reported) to retrieve a hose at Tunnel 12. (Abanteros are mine workers who do the work inside the tunnels, as against the atraseros who bring the ores out.)
Berdan said the two had not eaten their breakfast yet, except for a cup of coffee to warm their stomachs.
Unfortunately, there had been no mining operations in Tunnel 12, and so there was no blower machine installed there to supply oxygen inside the tunnel.
After a few minutes, when Estrella and Antipac did not return, it was then that his Uncle Julius went to fetch his co-miners in the same tunnel, Berdan said.
It was at this juncture that when his uncle also did not return, his father Bernardino sought the help of other miners and went to Kapinohan where Tunnel 19 is supposed to be operating.
Berdan said there were about 10 of them who went to Tunnel 12. At this time, the group was already suspecting that the men were already dead as they already saw bodies slumped inside the tunnel.
The young man said it was Delvin Antipac who went first. But then when Antipac also failed to return, Faustino Pacquiao followed, and then also his older brother Baste.
When his brother did not surface, another fellow miner identified as Joel also went inside the tunnel. But according to Berdan, Joel only went inside briefly and rushed his way out. He said Joel immediately vomited upon getting out of the tunnel.
By this time, the miners already had the blower machine functioning and so oxygen was now available inside, and thus Berdan went inside the tunnel.
But 10 meters into the tunnel, he started to feel nauseated from the smell coming from the tunnel, which he said smelled of earth, and then went unconscious. “I was maybe just seven arms’ length inside the tunnel when I fell, my head hitting the ground first,” Berdan said, holding his head.
The smell of earth was the last thing he remembered. He regained consciousness at the hospital.
Berdan was quiet when asked if it was true that the group did not ask permission from the tunnel owner when they entered it. It was his stepmother who said that they also do not know since it was the team leader, Julius, who knew about it. “But he is already dead so we cannot give you an answer on that,” Angelita said.
Berdan’s father, Bernardino, is still distraught. Like his son, he has not been eating properly since the accident.
The stepmother, Angelita said the Nagkahiusang Gagmay’ng Minero (NAGAMI) came to visit them and offered to assist. She said the NAGAMI will talk with the funeral parlor owner.
Earlier, NAGAMI said they will be extending a small financial assistance to the families of the victims.
There have been no word yet from local government officials. (Vanessa L. Almeda / MindaNews)