While Man is helpless against the onslaught of Nature’s force, we can still, and should, mitigate its toll on human lives.
What happened in Itogon, a mining town in Benguet, illustrates this case. More than a hundred people living at the foot of a mountain were buried alive by a landslide. So far, only around 16 bodies have been recovered by rescue workers from the muddy soil and rocks that cascaded on the houses made of light material.
The death toll in Itogon is ten times more than the whole number of casualties in other areas which suffered the brunt of “Ompong”’s wrath. Cagayan, Isabela, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur and the Cordillera suffered billions of pesos in damage to agricultural crops and property. But the body count in these provinces are only in the single digits because the people followed their local government’s advice to evacuate to LGU-designated facilities.
Why the high number of casualties in Itogon? In deference to the dead, we are not going to play the blame game. But the Itogon mayor said the mining families living near the mountain side were told to flee to the nearest evacuation center but they did not. Where the men made a living out of small-scale mining was also the site of their graveyard. Buried with the men were their families for whom they risk all in braving the perils of unregulated mining.
Like others who did not heed the government’s warning to evacuate, they paid for their sense of fatalism and folly of not leaving their homes despite the weather forecast of Ompong’s gale force winds and heavy rains. that would soften the ground particularly mountain sides causing landslides. The mining families of Itogon can hardly be faulted for staying their ground. They did not want to leave their homes for fear their few earthly possession would be stolen by looters. Yes, even in life-and-death situations, there still those who will steal even from the poor.
State of calamities were declared in Cagayan Valley and Isabela the two hardest hit provinces in the hurricane’s path. The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration or Pagasa predicted that Ompong would be worse than typhoon Ondoy or the super typhoon Yolanda that killed thousands in Leyte and Samar in eastern Visayas in November 2013.
True enough, as predicted by Pagasa (which has improved its weather forecasting), Ompong unleashed strong winds and heavy rains that pried off the galvanized roofs of small homes in its path.
Ompong, international name “Mangkhut” left the Philippine Area of Responsibility three days ago to wreak its fury on Hong Kong and Macau canceling flights to these two popular tourists destinations. Hong Kong, formerly known as the Crown Colony before the British turned it over to China, is known as Asia’s economic hub. Macau, a former Portuguese colony, became a gambling spot where Las Vegas casino operators like Wynn set up gaming houses.
President Rodrigo Duterte dispatched relevant Cabinet officials to go on site to assess the damage and supervise the doling out of relief services. Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Roy Cimatu ordered the closure of illegal small-scale mining operations. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello was told to go to his home province of Isabela while Public Works Secretary Mark Villar was instructed to facilitate the repair of damaged roads and bridges to ease the delivery of relief goods. Meanwhile, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez monitored the prices of prime commodities to prevent unscrupulous traders from jacking up their prices. Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol was directed to distribute imported National Food Authority rice to typhoon-stricken areas and give for free confiscated smuggled rice to the poor.
The Itogon, Benguet disaster, if at all, should make the government focus on regulating mining which could help spur the economy. Other countries have done this to contribute to their economies’ growth. A country like the Philippines imports its crude oil from the Middle East which causes the peso to plummet against the dollar at P54 to $1.
Since the importation of oil is paid in dollars, this resulted in prime commodities skyrocketing. I need not be a rocket scientist nor an economist to know this. My grocery bill went up from P1,000 to P2,000 a week. I live alone and have observed that the cost of my food for a week has doubled. Can you imagine the hardship of those with families of five or three dependents? Taxi drivers I talk to said they can hardly bring food to the table because of the continued rise of pump prices of oil, gasoline and kerosene for cooking.