‘It’s hard to just wait, I want to help dig’
SEMIRARA ISLAND, Antique—Lalaine Planca is grappling with her grief. “I have lost two already and that’s too much,” she said.
For five days, Lalaine has been waiting for word about her eldest child, Jan Riel, an excavator operator, who was buried with nine other people by tons of soil in Wednesday’s (February 13) collapse of the Panian open mine pit of Semirara Mining Corp. (SMC). The bodies of five heavy equipment operators were recovered last week.
Also missing with Jan Riel were Leovigildo Porras, Randy Tamparong, Richard Padernilla and Junjie Gomez.
Rescuers have found only Jan Riel’s blue backpack containing his wallet, clothes and other personal items.
Lalaine, who joined the families of other missing victims in a Mass atop the Panian pit on Saturday, said she wanted to throw herself into it.
“The pit took my husband near where Jan Riel was buried,” she told the Inquirer at the SMC employees’ housing complex in Barangay Semirara. Romeo Planca, 53, a company foreman, died on May 9 last year, a day after he was hit by a boulder in a slide on a wall section of the mine pit.
Lalaine said she had yet to receive insurance benefits from her husband’s death.
On Feb. 13, a few hours before Jan Riel and other victims were buried, Lalaine said her son had told her they would visit Romeo’s grave the next day, Valentine’s Day. “I did not know that he wouldn’t be coming home,” she said.
She said the family was roused from sleep at 4 a.m. on Feb. 14 when her son’s fellow employees came to inform them that he was among the victims in the accident. “It should have been me because I’m old already,” she said.
Aside from Jan Riel, Lalaine has four children, aged 9, 6 and 4 years, and 5 months.
“They are always asking for him and if he will come home,” Jan Riel’s wife Fernalyn said.
The family is hoping that search and recovery operations will continue. Rescuers, aided by K-9 sniff dogs, have been slowed down by continued slides along the collapsed wall.
On Saturday, two possible locations of the missing miners were marked but these were covered by slides on Sunday, said Sgt. Edward Bene, team leader of the K-9 unit of the Army’s 301st Brigade.
“It’s too hard to just wait here. I want to help and dig him out, even if I have to do it with my hands,” Lalaine said.
Every time a vehicle would stop in front of their house, she would open the door, hoping for news about Jan Riel.
“I am preparing for the worst. I only want him found,” she said.