LANDSLIDE SITE, Pantukan, Compostela Valley (MindaNews/24 April) – Two more bodies were found but not yet retrieved from the landslide site in Sitio Panganason, Barangay Kingking, bringing the death toll to three as of 5 a.m. Sunday.
The official count of the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (MDRRMC) is 3 dead, 13 rescued and 19 still missing, Major Jake Obligado, chief of the Civil-Military Operations of the 10th Infantry Division, said.
Obligado said the two – identified as Marjun Guilabtan, 18 and Relieto Tabay, 22 of Panabo City — were among the 21 earlier reported to be still missing, but their bodies have yet to be retrieved from the “deep portion, a tunnel.”
On Saturday evening, Obligado said “the bodies were trapped in a deep area hard for rescuers to reach. Rescuers are still planning how to pull out the bodies.”
Chances of finding survivors, however, appear dim as the rescue attempts entered its second day Saturday with no new find.
The total number of persons rescued, however, rose to 13 as reports that four miners rescued from the landslide site on Thursday and who had opted to remain there, reached the MDRRMC only on Saturday.
2Lt Ari Ben Hernaez, acting CMO officer of the 71st IB, identified the rescued miners as Jay Siladis, Jaimy Siladis and Jessie Bilan, all from this town and Bellmark Dawa of Mati, Davao Oriental. Their ages were not immediately made available.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, concurrent chair of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, is expected to arrive here Sunday along with Acting Environment Secretary Ramon Paje.
Local Government Secretary Jessie Robredo, NDMRRC vice, is also expected to arrive this afternoon.
Governor Arturo Uy ordered a 30-day suspension of small-scale mining operations in the province following the disaster.
Uy said the suspension will allow the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau (MGB) to assess the condition of the minesites, adding he will convene miners’ groups to revisit the existing Memorandum of Understanding which prohibits residing within the mining area.
He said he will also convene the local government officials today to assess the situation and would eventually impose the suspension order.
“We saw it coming,” the governor told reporters.
Pantukan Mayor Celso Sarenas told MindaNews on Friday that he had repeatedly warned residents to vacate the area but they refused.
Uy also said the provincial government had repeatedly warned the miners because the area had been declared a hazard zone by the MGB.
He added that the provincial government is not bent on totally stopping the small-scale mining operations. “We are not stopping them from what they are doing because that’s their livelihood. But we would propose that the commercial site such as the ballmills, buying area as well as residential sites should be away from the mining site to prevent loss of life,” he said.
If the miners refuse to leave the area, the provincial government will tap the law enforcement agencies. “We will see if they will still refuse.”
The landslide site, estimated to a have affected about a hectare, is located some 13 aerial kilometers away from the municipal hall and is accessible on a three-hour ride using habal-habal (motorcycle).
Miners who helped in the rescue operations told MindaNews they saw two bodies near the entrance of the tunnel covered in 12-feet deep mud.
The miners started digging through the mud and debris from 7 a.m. but failed to retrieve them.
They used water pumped from the tunnel to soften the soil.
The NDRRMC reported eight houses were totally damaged due to the landslide. But residents claimed more than a dozen houses were buried in the landslide.
At 1:45pm, rescuers recovered a wallet with a Postal Identification Card of Boloy Ensisel,29, from Barangay San Roque, Panabo City. Ensisel’s name is not among those listed as missing.
The wallet also contains his birth certificate, community tax certificate and a barangay clearance.
They also recovered a gold necklace believed to be owned by Ensisel. The belongings were turned over to barangay officials.
A backhoe of the local government reached the site at about 1:30pm but a bulldozer had to scrape the foot of the eroded soil so the backhoe could pass.
The backhoe started digging about an hour later.
Of the 19 still missing, not one is a resident of Pantukan although most are from neighboring cities. five from Panabo City; four each from Tagum City, Bukidnon and Davao City; three from Samal City; one from Maco.
The 19 miners reported missing are: Bernard and Bobit Celestial of Tagum City; Cristitoto Torrejos, Sr. and Cristitoto Torrejos, Jr., of Coambugan, Tagum City, the father and brother of the slain 15-year old Jun Rex; Dennis of Bukidnon, Andy, Junel and Vincent, all surnamed Lapates, also of Bukidnon; Jerico of Davao City, Alvin and Noe Caningoy of Davao City and Bitoy of Lasang, Davao City; Jongjong, Junjun and Erning of Samal City; Jay Omega of Maco and Panabo City residents Brendo Dani, Roberto Ynay andMarvin Anglai.
On Friday afternoon, Alfer Corpuz, an employee of the mayor’s office who rushed to the landslide site early Friday morning, said barangay officials estimated 32 persons may have been buried in the slide.
But there could still be more, Corpuz said, adding that on Maundy Thursday, there was a “padugo,” a ritual that involves slaughtering a chicken or pig and letting its blood drip in the tunnel for good luck or thanksgiving. Corpuz said many of those who attended the “padugo” stayed for the night. (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)