Hundreds of New Bataan villagers still looking for missing kin feared buried in minefield, elsewhere

NEW BATAAN, Compostela Valley (MindaNews/8 December)– Carrying a food pack she just received from a government agency, Perlita Capinig reported to the local disaster desk that her 25-year old son was still missing as of Friday afternoon.

The names of the missing persons posted at the incident command post in New Bataan, Compostela Valley province. Mindanews Photo by Ruby Thursday More
The names of the missing persons posted at the incident command post in New Bataan, Compostela Valley province. Mindanews Photo by Ruby Thursday More

Looking terrified and in tears, Capinig appealed before the disaster desk to search for her son Renante and three others who have not yet returned home from Barangay Manurigao.

She told MindaNews that her son and his colleagues have been digging gold for a living in this mountainous village.

But Marlon Esperanza, municipal information officer and head of the local disaster desk, simply listed her son’s name and did not offer any explanation or response to the appeal of the worried 45-year old mother.

Capinig was just one of the hundreds of villagers who are still looking for their missing family members and relatives four days after a flashflood hit this valley town.

The flashflood, brought by Typhoon Pablo, devastated 80 percent of the town with around 50,000 people.

Renante went to the gold rush site two days before the storm that hit last Tuesday, said the mother.

“He has been digging gold for five years already to feed his five-year old daughter and a three-month old baby,” Capinig bared.

Her son is supposed to marry his fiancée this coming December 29, she added.

Capinig was accompanied by the mother of her son’s fiancee, Elenita Lino.

Lino told MindaNews that there were five of them who were working in the gold mine site–at least for their group– but only one survived.

“The survivor told me that they were not trapped inside the tunnel. Their bunkhouse was destroyed by a landslide. Renante and his colleagues could be trapped under the mud,” she relayed.

For Capinig, she could accept the fate of her son for as long as his body will be recovered. “But I’m hoping that he is still alive.”

Manurigao: a gold rush site

When this reporter asked Esperanza, the local disaster desk head, how far is Manurigao, he said it is at least 35 kilometers away from the town proper.

Asked if there are gold rush sites in Manurigao, a lady wearing a shirt with the local government logo responded:”Ambot lang, kay wala man kami didto nagpuyo (I don’t know because we don’t live there).”

But Esperanza confirmed that there are indeed tunnels in the area owned by small-scale miners.

He added that a group of small-scale miners in Manuriago has formed an association called Minahang Katutubo.

Records posted at the website showed that Minahang Katutubo is a cooperative operating in Manurigao.

Ezperanza said that it would take at least a day to reach Manurigao by foot. He could not say if they will send rescue volunteers in the area.

Should his eldest son won’t survive the landslide, Capinig said she don’t know how to raise her grandchildren since they also lost everything in their home at Barangay San Roque.

Aside from her grandchildren, she and her husband will also have to feed their six other children.

Capinig noted that their farm was also devastated by the flashflood. “I don’t know how to start our lives again,” she lamented.

More missing reported

A day after the flashflood, the initial list of missing persons was recorded at around 200 only.

But as of December 7 noontime, the number of missing persons rose to 397.

Esperanza earlier on Wednesday told MindaNews that the figure of both the casualties and missing is expected to rise as many of the relatives have yet to come down from the remote areas.

In Barangay Andap alone, villagers estimate that the “missing persons could even reach up to a thousand.”

Andap was the most devastated village in the town, where most of the fatalities and missing persons were recorded. The barangay proper was totally wiped out when the flashflood hit Tuesday morning.

Andap is known for its natural spring resorts and agricultural farms. But after the flashflood, not even a single marker was left to determine the exact location of the spring resorts.

Joel Arcete, 38, told MindaNews that he lost 20 of his family members, including his father and mother, who were living in Andap.

Of those in their house, only his nephew, 19-year old Joseph Riatasa, survived the flashflood.

Riatasa was recovered at the sports complex at the town proper, seven kilometers away.

However, Arcete said his nephew died the following day due to internal injuries.

Arcete said he moved to the town proper after he got married years ago. Only his parents, siblings and other relatives were living in Andap.

His parents’ house was at the barangay proper and beside the barangay hall.

At the disaster desk beside the gymnasium, the names of missing persons have been listed on several cartolina papers.

A stinky smell fills the air particularly in the town proper, as search and rescue operations continue. Rescue volunteers dug through the mud, piles of logs and rocks to retrieve the bodies.

Governor Arturo Uy said that rescue operations also continue for some villagers in isolated barangays.

No disaster preparedness?

Even before the tragedy happened, Arcete said that the local disaster office has never conducted any disaster preparedness briefings.

Arcete said they were aware that a storm is coming, and that they learned about its super typhoon strength through news reports on TV and radio.

“Wala gyud ko may ma hinumduman na naay gibuhat na pulong-pulong sa among barangay kabahin sa mga pag-pangandam kung adunay kalamidad” (I cannot remember of any meeting in our village regarding disaster preparedness),” he recalled.

Sixty-four year old Solito Mahilom also corroborated Arcete’s statement, saying that the barangay officials and the disaster office did not issue further warnings to the villagers.

Mahilom, who has been living in Purok 4 of the town proper since 1974, also stressed that they only learned about Typhoon Pablo through TV and radio reports.

“Wala kami nasayod kung unsa gyud na kakusog ng signal number three. Wala man kami gipahibalo (We don’t know how strong public storm signal number three is. We were not told),” said the farmer who lost his house and cornfield.

Mahilom added that they only learned on TV how to respond or react when disaster strikes. “Wala man kami gitudluan sa barangay kung asa muadto kung may linog or kung may baha (The barangay did not inform us where to go if there is an earthquake or flood).”

MindaNews asked Mayor Lorenzo Balbin if the local government has initiated any disaster preparedness activities in the past, and his response: “Wala man gud nag expect ang mga tao ingon ani ang mahitabo (The people did not expect this kind of tragedy would happen)”

He added that the people were apparently lenient, amid their constant warning for them not to live on the riverbanks.

Balbin also said that even if the people have been warned, they “would just ignore it because they never experienced a typhoon’s fury in the past.”

In the past, he said that even if it would rain for a week in the mountains, the water level in the rivers would just rise and would flood the communities along the riverbank.

Balbin noted that heavy rains in the past did not cause any flashflood away from the riverbanks.

Asked if he could estimate the number of families affected in Barangay Andap alone, the mayor said: “Di ko kasulti pero diha dapit mga 3,000 voters na diha ( I can’t say but there are 3,000 voters there).” (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)