Itogon mayor says villagers refused evacuation offer before landslide
An aerial picture shows rescuers carrying a body bag containing a landslide victim, triggered by heavy rains during Typhoon Mangkhut, in Itogon, Benguet province on September 18, 2018. Hundreds of Philippine rescuers used shovels and their bare hands on September 18 to sift through a massive landslide, with dozens feared dead in the region worst-hit by Typhoon Mangkhut as the storm's toll climbed to 74.

Itogon mayor says villagers refused evacuation offer before landslide

Rosette Adel (Philstar.com) - September 19, 2018 - 9:55pm

MANILA, Philippines—  Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan on Wednesday said the local government implemented preemptive evacuation in the landslide area before the onslaught of Typhoon Ompong (international name: Mangkhut).

In a press conference, Palangdan stressed that they urged villagers to evacuate but they rejected their offer.

“We did our best to stop [them in] these dangerous areas,” Palangdan said in a televised interview.

“The police officers tried to convince them to go with them. There are vehicles waiting for them but they said: ‘We are sure that we are safe here,’” the mayor said in a press conference.

At least 22 bodies were recovered from the buried mine site in Barangay Ucab in Itogon, Benguet. Dozens of people, mostly miners, were believed to be trapped in the area.

On the fourth day of the retrieval operations, Palangdan said he is still hopeful survivors would be saved by the volunteers.

Palangdan blamed mining firms for allowing the small-scale miners and their families to mine in the landslide area.

“Why did they all these people to mine their abandoned tower?” the mayor asked.

Palangdan cited that there were security guards in the area which signaled that the miners had permission.

Benguet Corporation earlier denied that it encouraged small-scale miners to operate in its property.

“Benguet Corporation, which has been falsely accused of endangering the lives of small-scale miners by allowing them to operate within its property, has opted to prioritize the giving of assistance to victims and helping in the search, rescue, and retrieval operations first,” the firm said in a statement on Tuesday.

Despite this, Palangdan maintained that he can prove that the miners were encouraged by the company.

Following the incident, Palangdan said Itogon town would shift its focus into agro-tourism.

"We are going to agro-tourism project[s], as stated by our President that we should go agro-tourism. So that's it, we are introducing, little by little, the people will forget mining. Because mining is only [a] temporary source of income," the mayor said.

Environment chief Roy Cimatu ordered a halt in small-scale mining activities in the Cordillera region.

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