Landslide in Pantukan minesite kills at least 16

DAVAO CITY  (MindaNews/05 January) – At least 16 persons were killed and a still undetermined number were reported missing when a landslide struck a gold rush site in Pantukan, Compostela Valley at 3 a.m. today (Thursday).

Col. Camilo Ligayo, chief of the Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion, said 16 bodies had been recovered from the landslide site in Barangay Napnapan, based on the report from Ely Sanchez, a tunnel owner.

Lt. Col. Leopoldo Galon, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command  said at least 50 houses were reported destroyed.

“So far wala pa report kung may na rescue buhi. Pero ubay ubay daw natabunan” (Sof rar, no report of anyone rescued alive. But many were reportedly buried), Compostela Governor Arturo Uy told Bombo Rayo. Uy said the incident happened in an old mining site of  sitios Diat Uno and Diat Dos in Barangay Napnapan.

Small-scale miners in the gold rush sites have been used to living in bunkhouses near tunnels and ball mills.  But after the landslide in Sitio Panganason, Barangay Kingking, Pantukan on April 22 last year,  the local government implemented a Memorandum of Understanding it signed with miners,  declaring the mining site a “no-habitation” zone to avoid a repeat of what happened.

At least 14 persons were killed and nine others were reported missing during the landslide that happened also at 3 a.m. that Good Friday, which was incidentally also Earth Day.

Panganason is an hour’s ride by motorcycle from downtown Pantukan.  Napnapan, according to an aide of the mayor, is about three hours away.

Ligayo said they have organized a platoon of soldiers to conduct rescue operations.

Uy told Bombo Radyo that he and Pantukan Mayor Celso Sarenas had ordered the miners to vacate the gold rush site after the Mines and Geosciences Bureau declared the site as landslide prone.

“May nanghawa pero daghan na pud siguro namalik. Gipapahawa na sila human sa landslide sa Panganason . Unfortunately sa kadugay na wala na may nahitabo, possible namalik na pud,” (Some left but many apparently returned. They were ordered to vacate the area after the landslide in Panganason. Unfortunately, since no disaster happened again, they may have possibly returned), Uy said.

Hours after the April 22 landslide, Uy ordered a 30-day suspension of small-scale mining operations but this was reconsidered when Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo flew to Pantukan two days later.

Robredo told a press conference that at least 30 families living near the landslide site in the small-scale gold mining area in Barangay Kingking had been given 48 hours starting April 25 to relocate, as initial assessment shows another landslide could happen anytime.

Robredo said those who refuse would be forcibly evicted from the danger zone.

He also said the 30-day suspension of small-scale mining operations which Governor Arturo Uy ordered has been reconsidered given the economic impact on the miners but “the local government will implement the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the miners, which prohibits them from direct habitation in the gold rush site.”

Mayor Sarenas told reporters on the day of the landslide last year that  forcibly relocating the miners had been very difficult. He said they had been repeatedly asking them to leave the declared hazard zones but the miners refused to leave.

“They have been always telling us that they are ready to die in disaster rather than die in hunger,” Sarenas said,” adding if it wasn’t Good Friday, “maybe more could have died.”

In May 2009, 27 miners were killed after a  landlslide in Sitio  Magapispis, Barangay Boringot buried bunkhouses teeming with small-scale miners. (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)