Itogon landslide search, retrieval ops continue

ITOGON, Benguet — The search and retrieval operations for eight more missing persons from the typhoon-induced landslide in Itogon town last month will continue, but the supervision will be handed over to the town’s Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (DRRMC).

This was agreed upon in a meeting of the joint DRRMCs of the Cordillera region and the municipal government of Itogon on Tuesday afternoon.

Brig. Gen. Leopoldo Imbang Jr., head of the regional DRRMC’s committee on search and rescue, had recommended the shift of the search and retrieval operation to the municipal level.

“We have scoured the area at ground zero, reaching the tunnel where they could have hidden, but there were no bodies found,” he said during the meeting.

There are still eight missing persons in Itogon town.

As of 12 noon on Oct. 2, Cordillera recorded a total of 114 deaths from the onslaught of Typhoon Ompong in mid-September — 13 in Baguio City, one in Kalinga, six in Mountain Province, and 94 in Benguet province.

The 89 deaths in Benguet were mostly in Itogon, where the massive landslide occurred. The rest are in Tuba – one, Kabayan (Bokod) — one; and La Trinidad — three.

Cordillera DRRMC chairman and Office of Civil Defense (OCD) regional director Ruben Carandang said Itogon’s DRRMC has been adequately trained to do the search and retrieval operations of the still missing people.

Janet Armas, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) regional director in Cordillera and chairman of the CDRRMC’s committee on response, clarified that the search and retrieval operation is not being terminated, but will only be shifted to the municipal level.

Ililipat lang ang leadership sa munisipyo. Andito pa rin po tayo para tumulong at mag assist sa munisipyo, pero sila na ang magli-lead (We are not terminating the search and retrieval. We are just transferring the leadership to the municipality. We will still be here to help and assist, but they will now lead [the operation),” she said.

Armas also clarified that the identification of the bodies that would be found would still be processed by forensic experts from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), who will be on call anytime a body is retrieved.

The forensic experts, she said, will obtain samples from the remains for matching with “waiting” relatives, to assure that the bodies are released to the rightful kin.

She added the regional DRRMC will still assist the municipal DRRMC, as President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered not to stop the search operation until the last body is found.

“We are not terminating our response operations. President Duterte ordered to retrieve all bodies and assist the residents, which is what we will do,” Armas said.

She added that the DSWD will also continue to help the residents, especially the over 50 families still at the relocation area in Itogon, families who opted to avail of the “balik probinsiya” program, those who relocated to their relatives’ houses, and other victims of “Ompong,” including those who will be displaced by the cease and desist order (CDO) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to stop all small-scale mining activities in Cordillera.

Armas said a meeting with the National Economic Development Authority was held on Oct. 1, to thresh out plans for the long-term aid for the typhoon and landslide victims.

“The committee has met Monday to discuss the plans for livelihood options,” she said.

She added her committee under the CDRRMC is hoping to get livelihood opportunity proposals for the survivors, with the corresponding project costs, within the month.

The massive Itogon landslide also economically displaced thousands of miners.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu ordered on Sept. 17 all small-scale mining activities in the entire Cordillera stopped and all 10 mining contracts earlier issued by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau canceled.

Ralph Pablo, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Regional Director for Cordillera, said Itogon town has about 10,000 small-scale miners.