MANILA, Philippines - Officials who were negligent in ensuring the safety of the people in mining areas would be held accountable for last week’s deadly tragedy in Compostela Valley to avoid a repeat of similar incidents, Malacañang said yesterday.
The death toll in the mining site in Pantukan, Compostela Valley reached 30 as rescuers from the Army’s 10th Infantry Division retrieved three more bodies yesterday afternoon.
Asked whether local authorities should be punished if investigation would show they allowed the landslide victims to stay in the danger zones, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said, “It was really needed because we could not allow these things to happen repeatedly.”
“Landslides are no joke and we see that until now, the search and rescue operations were continuing,” Valte said.
The law must be strictly implemented this time so that no residents will stay in danger areas, she said, adding that allowing the people to go back to their dangerous dwelling places will be unacceptable.
“We should really be strict this time because they keep on coming back, that cannot be the case this time,” Valte said over radio dzRB.
Valte also said the relocation of the residents would be ensured and authorities would have to make sure that people are prohibited from building houses in danger areas.
Valte said Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo had made his initial report to President Aquino after conducting an assessment in the area.
She added Robredo already ordered the forced evacuation of residents in danger spots and mandated local officials to strictly guard these places so that residents would not go back to their houses.
Also this week, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the Department of the Interior and Local Government was looking into the lapses that resulted in the deadly incident that killed scores of people.
Military officials said some 100 individuals were still missing due to the landslide, which happened Thursday at around 3 a.m. following incessant rains.
Valte said most of the landslide victims were not residents but were working in the small-scale mining site.
“Unfortunately, the incident happened and that was really a danger area. But the investigation is now proceeding so we can see what must be done to prevent a repeat of what happened,” Valte said.
No man’s land
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), meanwhile, is batting for the declaration of a “no man’s land” in all small-scale mining sites in Compostela Valley found by Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) experts to be disaster-prone areas.
“Based on the findings of the MGB, we are recommending to our top political leaders that all small-scale mining operations in these mining hazard areas - illegal or those licensed - be completely stopped and to declare these disaster-prone places as ‘no man’s land,’” NDRRMC executive director Benito Ramos said.
Ramos said that since April 11, 2011, the MGB has already declared several mine sites around Pantukan and Monkayo towns as landslide-prone largely due to years of unabated large-scale and small-scale mining operations.
Without going into specifics, Ramos said villages that are no longer safe to stay or live in are the landslide-stricken Sitio Diat 1 down to Sitio Diat 700, a gold-rich area in Barangay Napnapan, Pantukan.
Ramos said small-scale miners will always return to these places if they are not declared “no man’s land.”
As of yesterday, Army and police retrieval teams have already recovered 30 bodies in the landslide-stricken mining site.
Col. Leopoldo Galon, spokesman of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), said search teams are still tracing the location of 38 others who were reported by their relatives as among those who are still missing.
As of 5 p.m. yesterday, troops have already retrieved a total of 30 bodies and 25 of them have been already identified.
He added that of the 16 people rescued, six are still confined in the hospital, one of them in critical condition.
The search and retrieval operations are scheduled to go on for three more days, after which authorities said it would be advisable to suspend operations amid continuous rains in the area. - With Edith Regalado, Jaime Laude - By Aurea Calica