Miners forced to choose the ‘better’ way to die

Miner Rex Braga ,25, covers his face with a towel as he is about to enter a tunnel to check the water level. Rescuers use water to soften the dirt and rubble. MindaNews Photo by Keith BacongcoPANTUKAN, Compostela Valley (MindaNews/25 April) – For many miners, dying in a disaster like a landslide is better than dying from hunger even if dozens of their colleagues had been buried alive in different gold mining sites.

Even the miners at the landslide area in Barangay Kingking here admitted that several tunnels had collapsed in the past but most of them went unreported.

Two years ago, 27 miners were killed when a chunk of a mountain in Sitio  Magapispis, Barangay Boringot of this town fell into three bunkhouses.

Twenty-five-year old miner Rex Braga told MindaNews that it takes a lot of guts to work in the gold-rush site given the risk and the working condition inside the tunnels.
To work in the gold-rush site, Braga added, one must be ready to die anytime because they all know that the tunnels are not totally safe compared to those in the large-scale mining operations.

Small-scale miners would spend days inside the tunnel while breathing through an improvised air pump while some get oxygen through hoses using compressors.

“Kami nga nagtrabaho dire, kulang naman lang gyud sa amoa dire kandila (We who are working here only lack candles),” he said, “ginalubong naman namo daan amo kaugalingon (we have already buried ourselves).”

He said that in his two years of working in one of the tunnels, he has never encountered any disaster. “Pasalamat lang ko kay wala pa gyud ko dimalas dire (I’m just thankful that no misfortune has happened to me),” he said.

Like Braga, 27-year-old Eugene Fuentes also shared that he has no plans of quitting his job despite the risk.

“Kaning pag-mina namo, kasabot naman kami naa gyud ni delikado ni pero gatuo man kami na kung oras na nimo, oras na nimo (We already know that mining is risky but we believe that if it’s your time, it’s your time),” said Fuentes.

The skinny miner added that they dig not just for gold in the area but also their own graves.

Braga and Fuentes worked with Danny Prendo, 26, and Marjun Gilabtan, 18, two miners from Barangay Buan in Asuncion, Davao del Norte who were among those who died.

Two more bodies have been retrieved from the landslide site before noontime on Monday bringing the total death toll to eight while 15 others remain missing.

In addition, one of the two previously unidentified bodies that were recovered was that of Dennis Calapis, 17, according to the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
Unlike their colleagues, Fuentes and Braga only stayed occasionally in their bunkhouse which is right beside the tunnel. Fuentes said they have a separate shanty on the other side of the mountain.
“Nag-uli lang kami kay mag-Biernes Santo na man, mao to nga sila lang nabilin diha nagbantay sa portal (We went home because Good Friday was approaching, that’s why they [Prendo and Gilabtan] were left to guard the portal)” he said.

Braga and Fuentes also helped rescuers locate their trapped colleagues since they already spotted them on Friday afternoon but could not pull them out due to the massive mud. Braga said he saw one the arms of the trapped miners.

“Ingon ni Beca, nidagan daw ng duha paadto sa gate sa tunnel para didto unta siguro magtago pero kay naka lock man ang gate, mao to nga naipit gyud sila (Beca said the two ran towards the gate of the tunnel presumably to hide there but since it was locked they were trapped),” he relayed.
Braga was referring to Rebecca Recaplaza, 46, who was among the 13 survivors.

Trying their luck

Amid the risk, Fuentes said they would still find work in another tunnel and try their luck.

Since there are no economic opportunities for them back in the town proper, Fuentes said they would rather stay in the gold-rush site because there are times that they could get a share of as much as P20,000 from the gold mine after a day of backbreaking job.

“Pero dili tanan panahon swertehon pud kami, dili pud ingon nga ma-zero kami kay pinakagamay na bahin namo kay P500 sa isa ka adlaw. Dili man namo na makita kung didto lang kami sa Pantukan. Sugal gyud ni amoa dire tungod sa kalisud (But we’re not lucky all the time. We also don’t end up with nothing as we could earn at least P500 daily. We could not earn this amount in Pantukan. It’s really a gamble for us here due to poverty),” Fuentes said.

Meanwhile, he believes that more people could have been trapped in the landslide contrary to the figures provided by the government agencies.

“Daghan man gud to nangadto dire dapita bago pa nahitabo ang landslide kay diha sa taas dapit, naay nagpadugo diha sa bag-o na tunnel. Hapit to sila 20 didto, (Many had come here before the landslide because somebody performed a ritual in the upper portion. There were almost 20 persons there),” he recalled.

Mayor Celso Sarenas admitted to have received reports from the residents near the landslide site that there could be more people trapped in the landslide.

Sarenas vowed to dig all the people trapped in the landslide site. But he told a press conference on Sunday that chances of finding survivors were getting slim given the massive dirt and rubble that swathed the gold-rush site.
Local folk said the gold-rush sites in Pantukan started sometime in 1982, particularly in the nearby village of Boringot. But in Kingking village people started to flock to the area sometime in 1988.

Miners from other provinces


The gold mines in this town have attracted not only local people from the lowlands but also those from other provinces.

In this recent tragedy, six of those listed as missing are from Bukidnon, one is from Leyte and the rest are from the nearby provinces of Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental and Davao City. (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)