MANILA, Philippines - The bodies of five workers who went missing during a landslide at a mining site in Semirara, Antique were located yesterday morning, police said.
However, Chief Inspector Rico Andanza said the rescue and retrieval operations were temporarily halted to allow the teams to disinfect the area.
“The smell is too fetid and they needed to disinfect the area so that it won’t be hazardous to the health of those performing the operations,” Andanza, chief of Caluya, Antique police, said in a phone interview.
Although operations are focused on rescue and retrieval, Andanza said they are still hoping to recover the workers alive after being buried by the landslide on Feb. 14 at the Semirara Coal & Mining Corp. (SCMC), Barangay Semirara in Caluya.
Police said five mining workers were killed, three others were hurt and several others were still missing.
Local authorities have not reported any development on the retrieval operations for the bodies Jan Riel Planca, Randy Tamparong, Richard Padernilla, Junjie Gomez, and their foreman Leovigildo Porras due to distance of the location.
Semirara Island could only be reached by a nine-hour boat ride under good weather condition and communication has also been a problem for residents and workers.
Caluya Mayor Genevieve Lim Reyes said SCMC assured her that financial assistance and burial expenses will be provided to the three survivors and five fatalities.
About 200 residents were also affected by the landslide, since families of most miners also reside in the area.
Sangguniang Bayan member Ricky Laviga said he received information that several workers had been apprehensive of an impending collapse because of two days of continuous rain.
Reports had it that the mining firm’s Crack Monitoring Team advised the management in the afternoon of Feb. 13, or several hours before the accident, that cracks were spotted in portions of the mine pit wall but this allegedly went unheeded.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)-Region 6 said that it will send a safety officer to Semirara to assess the health and safety plan of the SCMC.
Ponciano Ligutom, DOLE-6 director, said that an annual technical inspection is being conducted by their office to ascertain the occupational safety of workers, but he would like the team to determine what really caused the accident.
Andanza said they are waiting for Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla and representatives from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to conduct inspections in the area, as part of the effort to prevent a similar incident.
He said a portion of the slope gave in, triggering the landslide.
“The search and rescue operations are being done by Semirara people. They have complete equipment, so we are just closely coordinating with them,” he added.
SCMC, the only large-scale coal producer in the Philippines, has been in operation since 1998. – Jennifer Rendon