CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/29 April) – Nine farm workers died and 53 others were injured in a vehicular accident in an oil palm plantation in Opol, Misamis Oriental, an incident that may have underscored the generally poor working conditions of farm workers in the country.
Six of the victims died on the spot and the rest were pronounced dead in Cagayan de Oro City hospitals Friday morning. One of them was a minor and the other was one-month pregnant.
The victims were aboard a 6×6 cargo truck used to ferry farm workers of the A. Brown Palm Oil Plantation that overturned as it negotiated a curve in Sitio Limbasan, Barangay Tingalan in Opol.
Killed on the spot were driver Danny Mangaron, Zaima Legaspi, Elizabeth Echinique, Ernita Clapano, Jigger Magpulong, and Elizabeth Angano, who was one-month pregnant.
Pronounced dead at the Northern Mindanao Medical Center was Bobong Quitos, at the Polymedic General Hospital Ernie Bona, and at the Polymedic Medical Plaza Angeli Taroy Macana.
Legaspi’s husband, Richard, survived the accident by jumping from the truck as it overturned.
Richard told MindaNews that in one of the curves leading to the plantation in Sitio Limbasan, the truck hit a soft portion of the road which collapsed resulting in the fatal accident.
“Murag nag libog to ang driver nga ipa pidpid ba sa pangpang ang truck kay daghan man nagkabit sa tuo nga kilid or i-maneuver sa humok nga yuta,” (It seemed that the driver was unsure whether to maneuver the soft road or slam the truck’s right side against a hill as there were people clinging to the side of the truck), said Richard who suffered a gash above his right eyebrow.
Richard said that he was on the right side of the truck and jumped as the truck was about to overturn on its left side. “Nisinggit pa ko sa akong asawa mga mu ambak na, pero naa siya sa tunga dapit naglingkod sa salog,” (I shouted to my wife to jump but she was seated on the floor of the truck somewhere in the middle).
Zaima Legaspi was a mother of seven, four by his second husband Richard.
Richard Macana, husband of Angeli, cheated death when he opted to be absent from work today to make some repairs on their house in Barangay Salawaga, Opol. They have four children.
The ill-fated truck was carrying around 80 workers when it left the A Brown oil palm nursery in Salawaga 5:00 a.m. today. The accident happened around 6:00 a.m.
A. Brown Corporate Social Responsibility staff member Rodante Catiil said that the company will take care of the medical and funeral expenses of the victims.
He admitted though that the farm workers were not regular employees but pakyaw workers (farm contract labor) who received at least P180 per day.
The farm workers were contracted by Barangay Tingalan Kagawad James Siarot.
Siarot said that his role is to find farm workers on contractual basis for the A. Brown Palm Oil Plantation in their barangay.
The P180 daily pay is based on the quota of weeding 45 hills of oil palm per day.
“Ubos sa minimum wage ilang suholan kay quota system man gud ni sila and most finish weeding their quota at 11 in the morning,” (Their pay is below the minimum wage as they work based on their quota, which most of them finish at 11:00 in the morning), Siarot said.
He, however, admitted that the workers ride a cargo truck at 5 a.m. from the Salawaga nursery site to the plantation about an hour away and are fetched at 3 p.m. from the plantation back to the nursery site.
Siarot confirmed that Angano was one-month pregnant.
The minimum daily wage for agricultural workers in Northern Mindanao is P257 per day.
Ruffy T. Magbanua, community relations and development manager of A. Brown said in a press conference Friday noon that the priority of the company now is to give the best medical service to the injured and take care of the families of those who died.
He said the board of directors of the company will meet on Saturday to discuss possible assistance package for the victims.
Opol police chief Inspector Sebastian Chua said that the 53 injured are now recuperating at the NMMC, Polymedic Medical Plaza and Polymedic General Hospital.
He said that they are still conducting an investigation to determine criminal and civil liability for the incident.
Romel Laroy of the Opol Rescue Team said that almost all of the 80 workers were hurt but that they prioritized those having serious injuries. The team brought to the Polymedic Medical Plaza seven of the injured victims around 10 a.m.
Laroy said that two of the seven victims they rescued were in serious condition. “Dugay sila nakit-an kay nilagpot man” (they were spotted late because they were thrown off the truck farther).
He said that they were the first to respond around 7 a.m. and gave first aid to the victims.
Most of those who died were pinned down by the truck as it overturned four times, he added.
The plantation road that the truck was traversing opened in February this year, said Catiil.
Tingalan is about 30 kilometers from the Opol poblacion or town center. It hosts the 500-ha oil palm plantation being developed by A. Brown Company in the last six months. (BenCyrus G. Ellorin/MindaNews)