‘No sign of life’ in landslide site, Rescue shifts to retrieval operation

ITOGON, Benguet — Secretary Francis Tolentino, Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs, has directed operatives to focus on body retrieval operations, as there seems to be “no sign of life” left at the landslide area in this mining town.
In a press conference here on Tuesday afternoon, Tolentino said rescue operations in the area would have to be stopped, shifting focus on the search and retrieval of dead bodies instead.
“We are declaring that this is purely retrieval operations, as no sign of life is being detected,” he said.
It has been 10 days since the fatal landslide occurred in Barangay Ucab at the height of Typhoon Ompong (Mangkhut) on Sept. 15, burying scores of residents, mostly small-scale miners and contractual mining laborers.
As of 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the Cordillera Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (CDRRMC) has confirmed 85 deaths and 23 still missing in Itogon town.
Majority of those still not found, or 17, were in Barangay Ucab, particularly in the landslide area now called “ground zero.”
Tolentino has also instructed the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to start the psycho-social processing of the victims’ relatives.
“This is a devastating news. That is why the DSWD will be conducting community counseling to ease the pain of the victims,” he lamented.
DSWD regional director Janet Armas said her department had actually begun the community counseling for the victims, who earlier evacuated from their homes as “Ompong” ravaged the area.
Armas said a group of psychologists would be conducting stress debriefing and trauma counseling among the victims’ relatives.
“There will be an augmentation of nurses coming from the DOH (Department of Health) to help during the conduct of the debriefing and counseling of the families of the victims, especially the relatives of those still missing under tons of mud,” she added.
In an earlier press conference near “ground zero” the other Saturday, Tolentino said the DOH and the Office of Civil Defense had declared a “slim chance of finding survivors.”
On that day, the Secretary and the heads of the departments in the region agreed to wait two more days before they lift the rescue operation and shift to purely retrieval.
“If we do not get a positive result in the next two days, and if we no longer find any survivors, we will shift to retrieval operations,” the Secretary then decided.
Also on Saturday, Brig. Gen. Leopoldo Imbang of the Philippine Army in Northern Luzon, who headed the search, rescue, and retrieval (SSR) operations, said operatives were then moving towards the old mine portal of the Benguet Corporation, where the people could have sought refuge. On Tuesday, the portal was reached and one body was found near it.
Debriefing, DNA sample taking
The CDRRMC has advised the relatives waiting for news on their missing family members to proceed to the DSWD regional office in Baguio for their psycho-social processing.
Information obtained from reliable sources said the debriefing will include explaining to the families the operational shift from rescue to retrieval and to help them cope with their losses.
The media had been barred from the area to prevent inconvenience to the grieving relatives, who would have to accept that their family members were already dead.
The relatives were also advised to go to the DSWD, so their DNA samples would be taken for matching with the unidentified bodies earlier recovered from the site and those who are still to be recovered.
The DNA matching, while it will take long, will assure that the bodies released to the relatives are their own, the National Bureau of Investigation forensic team earlier said. ** Pamela Mariz Geminiano/PNA

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