Ifugao mourns townmates’ death in Benguet mines landslide

ITOGON, Benguet — Ifugao province recorded zero casualty in the onslaught of Typhoon “Ompong” (Mangkhut), but the Ifugaos are mourning the death of scores of their townmates in a landslide in Barangay Ucab in Itogon town in Benguet province.

“We mourn this unfortunate incident. There was no recorded death in our province in Ifugao, but those who died and others who are missing in Itogon are from Ifugao,” Ifugao Governor Pedro Mayam-o lamented in a telephone interview with the Philippine News Agency (PNA) on Thursday.

He said about 80 to 90 percent of those who died in the Ucab mines, as well as those still missing, are from his province.

Mayam-o arrived in Benguet’s capital town La Trinidad on Monday, in time for President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to the typhoon-devastated province to meet with the families of the victims in Baguio and Benguet and to hear about the incident.

But Mayam-o said his primary purpose in going to Benguet was to check on the welfare of his townmates–the families of most of the victims of the landslide. He came with provincial social work office chief Joyce Niwane to assist the victims’ families.

Together with the families of the victims, Mayam-o waited sitting on the sides hoping the rescue operation at “ground zero” will find survivors, or at least the remains of his townmates, who perished in the accident.

As of noontime of Wednesday, Itogon recorded 45 deaths and 59 missing. In Barangay Ucab, where the landslide occurred, 18 bodies have been recovered.

“Our ancestors handed to us a tradition, where we share in the grief of our ‘kailian’ (townmates), when their loved ones pass away. I am here because I share with the grief and I want to check on the welfare of my townmates,” Mayam-o said.

In a meeting with his townmates in the evening of Tuesday, he told them: “I condole with you my ‘kailian’ here. I know you are stressed. There is a problem, but we hope that our presence here will ease your burden.”

The Ifugao leader was sad that his townmates had left the province to find better fortune elsewhere, only to die on the land where they were supposed to live.

“They are small-scale miners. Others are laborers. They are there to earn a living as miners and others to get employment even on contractual basis as laborers. There are some who were there because they went to visit their relatives in Itogon,” Palangdan said.

The governor arrived back in Ifugao on Thursday early morning to meet with the local disaster council. “I am back here in Ifugao to meet with the DRRMC to assess the extent of damage here in the province,” he told the PNA.

Damage was more on crops. No casualties have been recorded, except for some injuries.

Mayam-o said his town is looking to financially aid those who would come back to their hometown soon, after the environment department ordered a halt on mining activities in the region.

“We have a budget for possible assistance, but we need to plan out a long – term support for those who will come home,” he said. “Kaasi da met (they are pitiful). As much as possible, we would help them find a job here [in Ifugao]. We will coordinate with the other agencies on how we can help those who will be displaced by the small-scale mining stoppage. Ifugao cannot do it alone.”

The Ifugao governor said he is considering training the young Ifugaos how to plant heirloom rice, the indigenous rice Ifugao is known for.

He said heirloom rice production and organic agricultural production could be a better livelihood for the displaced small-scale miners and their families.

He added he is also looking at the possibility of training the locals on various skills to match the requirement of the government’s “build, build, build” program.

Earlier, the Ifugao leader lamented that much of the rice terraces in the province have been abandoned due to out-migration, as his townmates looked for better fortune elsewhere–either abroad or in other parts of the country, including the deadly mines in Benguet. PNA-northboundasia.com