Itogon landslides: ‘We still consider this a rescue operation’
Itogon landslides: ‘We still consider this a rescue operation’

'Naniniwala tayo na baka may survivor pa,' says Presidential Political Adviser Francis Tolentino

MANILA, Philippines – It has been 4 days since Typhoon Ompong (Mangkhut) triggered landslides in Itogon, Benguet on Saturday morning, September 15, leaving at least 46 dead and 60 missing.

In Barangay Ucab, where a major landslide occurred, authorities are still hoping to find survivors in what they refused to call a retrieval operation.

“I reported to the President [that] we still consider this as a rescue operation, not as a retrieval operation,” Presidential Political Adviser Francis Tolentino said on Wednesday, September 19, in an interview on CNN Philippines’ The Source.

Tolentino is President Rodrigo Duterte’s conduit for government response to Ompong.

“Naniniwala tayo na baka may survivor pa kasi may mga incident niyan sa Nepal, sa China, earthquake, after two weeks may survivor pa eh. At ito namang lugar na ‘to may tubig ‘yan eh, nagpa-pump pa nga ng water kahapon, so I still believe we can still get some survivors,” he added.

(I believe there are still survivors because there are incidents in Nepal, in China, during earthquakes, when they rescue survivors even after two weeks. In Itogon, the place has water, it was pumping water even yesterday, so I still believe we can still get some survivors.)

Tolentino said that as of Tuesday, September 18, more rescue groups were coming in to lend a hand.

“Ang ginawa namin kahapon, rotation na…. Sabi ko i-organize na natin: registration, kahit ‘di na natin tanungin ano training nila, nandoon na rin lang,” he said of private rescue groups who showed up to help.

(What we did yesterday was to do rotations…. I told them to organize: registration, and we don’t have to ask about their training since they’re there already.)

He added: “Ang pinapaiwas na lang natin ‘yung mga kamag-anak na gustong bumaba kasi delikado. Tapos siyempre gusto nila makita kalagayan ng hinahanap nila – [there are relatives coming from] as far as Nueva Vizcaya, Ifugao.”

(We’ve asked relatives to refrain from going down the site of the landslide because it’s dangerous. And of course they want to see for themselves what has happened to the person they’re looking for – there are relatives coming from as far as Nueva Vizcaya, Ifugao.)

Instead, authorities keep relatives updated at the incident command post located near ground zero.

“Sa taas na lang, ino-organize na ng governor ng Ifugao, mayroon nang tent, booth, ‘yung mga residents ng Ifugao doon naghihintay ng balita. Mas organizado na ngayon kaysa initial hours,” Tolentino explained.

(The governor of Ifugao has set up a tent, booth, where residents from Ifugao can wait for news. We’re now more organized than during the initial hours.)

Other groups are also present at the incident command post: the local civil registrar for the identification of the bodies, social welfare groups, the health department for the management of the bodies, funeral services, and those who organize food for the rescuers.

Ground zero, meanwhile, has been divided into sectors, with a sector assigned to the army, the Bureau of Fire Protection, the Philippine National Police, and volunteers.

Tolentino had said the landslide that buried a bunkhouse packed with miners and their families in Itogon was caused by both torrential rains and small-scale mining.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has since ordered a stop to all small-scale mining operations in the town. –

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