PANTUKAN, Compostela Valley (MindaNews/9 January) – Everything seems to be normal in the gold rush communities near the landslide site in Sitio Diat 1 in Barangay Napnapan as ball mill plants continue to operate and miners continue to haul ores out of the tunnel.
Interviewed just 200 meters away from Ground Zero, Jun Alcantara, owner of a small-scale mine processing plant, said they are already used to landslides, adding that it’s “normal” for them.
Alcantara, who has been operating the milling plant since 2000, said small-scale miners like him had no other choice but to continue operation even as the local government is mulling a stoppage order to all mining operations in the identified high-risk areas, which includes the gold rush sites in Barangay Napnapan.
As of 2 p.m. Monday, 36 bodies have been retrieved while 42 others remain missing following a landslide that hit the gold rush site in Sitio Diat 1 on early morning of Thursday.
“Landslides are normal here for us. Anywhere you go here is not really safe, we are aware of that. But we have no other means of livelihood,” said Alcantara, who started working in the mines in Barangay Napnapan in 1984 before starting his own business four years later.
He admitted to have received reports that the local government is planning to stop all operations in the gold rush sites as well as the recommendation of Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo to demolish all houses in the “no habitation” zones.
Alcantara said they are willing to relocate their houses and ball mill plants should the government insist.
“I have talked to my fellow miners here. We will cooperate with the government because we know that’s for our own safety also. But the government must also understand that it’s not easy to relocate. So we are willing to sit down and talk about it,” he said.
Dr. Arnulfo Lantaya, local disaster council spokesperson, said the local government already informed last Sunday the miners and residents living in sitios Diat 1 and Diat 2 to evacuate because these areas have already been identified by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) as far back in 2008 as among the high-risk areas.
Lantaya said over the phone that the evacuation order will expire this (Monday) evening. By Tuesday, he said, authorities will inspect the areas if the residents have complied.
Then on Wednesday, the local government will send demolition teams to forcibly evict and demolish the shanties, Lantaya added.
He could not yet say how many miners will be affected by the evacuation order.
Last year, miners in Sitio Panganason voluntarily demolished their shanties following the order of the local government three days after the landslide, which left 14 persons killed and nine others still missing.
Miners are aware
Ely Sanchez, chair of the Diat Small-Scale Miners Cooperative, told MindaNews that his fellow miners were already aware that the Diat sitios have been identified as high-risk areas.
He said most of his colleagues have already moved to safer grounds right after the landslide at Sitio Panganason.
“Those who refused to leave have actually signed a waiver that if anything happens, our organization should not be blamed for negligence to our members,” he said last Saturday.
Prior to the landslide, Sanchez added that he had actually deployed watchmen on top of the mountain where the landslide originated.
He said they have already noticed the fissures since last year and they have already informed the residents to leave the area.
“Those four persons from Diat Uno, who are still missing, were newcomers to this place. I have already told them not build their shanties directly below the fissures but they were stubborn,” lamented Sanchez.
He recalled that hours before the landslide, they already noticed slight rumblings and rocks falling from the mountain.
By 2.a.m., Sanchez said, some of their fellow miners fired their guns to alert the residents near the fissure. “But these four persons did not immediately evacuate. They were last seen packing their belongings. Unfortunately, they did not make it to safer grounds,” Sanchez recounted.
He added that most of the casualties were actually workers of the Hexat Mining Corporation. Most of the company’s bunkhouses were directly hit by the landslide.
Hexat mining’s compound sits directly below Sitio Diat 1, where the landslide started and slid towards Diat 2, burying at least 50 houses.
Small-scale miners monitor cracks
As hundreds of volunteers are digging though the mud and debris, Sanchez said some of his colleagues are monitoring the movement of the crack on top of the landslide site.
On Saturday, rescue volunteers and photographers scampered to higher grounds after the police sounded the alarm upon seeing mud and debris sliding towards the bottom of the landslide site, where the rescue operations are focused.
But it turned to be a false alarm, after Sanchez radioed his men on top of the mountain to check if there was movement on the fissure.
He estimates that landslide measures around 800 meters from bottom to the tip. But the local disaster council says it’s just 350 meters.
“This is more than double compared to the landslide site in Panganason, which was about 300 meters from top to bottom,” said Sanchez, who has been working in the gold rush site for 30 years. (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)