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Duterte meets Cebu slide survivors who blame tragedy on quarrying

GROUND ZERO An aerial shot of Tinaan, Naga City, in Cebu shows a collapsed mountain side burying scores of homes and threatening more houses in the community. Residents in the area have been forcibly evacuated after a massive landslide on Thursday left at least 35 people dead, with 44 others still missing. —CHRISTIAN MANINGO / CEBU DAILYNEWS

NAGA CITY, Cebu — President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday offered sympathy and full government support to the affected families as he met with the survivors of the landslide that buried at least 50 houses in Sitio Sindulan, Barangay Tinaan.

In a speech, the President asked the crowd if they had any complaint.

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A woman in a white blouse and who appeared to be in her 40s bravely went onstage and faced the President.

Without identifying herself, the woman told the President that she and her neighbors at Barangay Tinaan wanted to put a stop to the quarry operations that they blamed for the massive landslide.

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“Stop the Apo Cement quarry. That’s what I’m asking. We don’t need food. What we need is for the quarry to stop because I believe if the people would just work, we’d still manage to eat,” she said as the crowd cheered.

With the President looking at her intently, the woman continued and said she did not think heavy rains had triggered the landslide. They’ve been through a lot of typhoons, she said, but no tragedy had struck until the quarry operations started.

Pink nail polish

“I believe what you say,” the President told the woman. “But look at your nails. I guess you were at the beauty parlor when the landslide happened.”

He then pointed to her pink nail polish.

When the woman left the stage, the President went on to say “Maayong pagka-training ni sa kuan … (She’s well trained by the …).”

He then asked the crowd: “Are there any New People’s Army [communist rebels] here?”

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Make sure that no one is supporting the NPA, he said, as he went on to rant for the nth time against the Communist Party of the Philippines.

In his speech, the President said he felt “sad with what happened,” referring to the Sept. 20 landslide that, as of Saturday, had left at least 35 persons and seriously injured 15 others. At least 44 remained missing.

“It’s not easy to be in your situation right now. It’s too heavy a burden. This happens not just because many people were affected or lost their lives. You should know that typhoons are evil,” he said.

He said affected families could relocate to a vacant portion of the Balili beach property located about a kilometer from their current homes.

“I’m happy because if a lot is owned by the government, that means you can have it,” he said as he instructed Secretary Eduardo del Rosario of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council to supervise the construction of the evacuees’ new houses.

The President said that the local government could also allow public vehicles to service the area to make life easier for them. “If you don’t have fare, then that is a problem. Just don’t engage in illegal drugs. I will kill you,” the President said.

Natural phenomenon

The President also sent in Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, who on Thursday ordered the suspension of Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) officials in Central Visayas (not Environmental Management Bureau, as erroneously reported on Saturday).

The MGB earlier said the cracks found in the mountains of Tinaan were a natural phenomenon and not caused by the quarry operations of Apo Land and Quarry.

Cimatu also suspended quarry operations in the mountains around Naga City and several other provinces for 15 days to determine if they pose any danger.

Aside from promising new houses for the affected families and paying their hospitalization fees and burial expenses, the President gave P20,000 each to the bereaved families and P10,000 to those who suffered injuries.

The amount is on top of the P25,000 each to be given by the Department of Social Welfare and Development to the families of landslide casualties, according to Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go.

In Cebu City, Archbishop Jose Palma on Saturday echoed calls for a stop to quarry and mining operations in the area.

“It’s time to reassess. If there is a need to close these companies for good, then we should do it. We should be mindful of its effects to life and the community,” the 68-year-old prelate said after visiting the wake of those who perished in the landslide.

“We were saying over and over again, we should not desecrate the blessings we have from above,” Palma said, adding that a thorough investigation should be done so that justice could be served to the victims.

Forcible evacuation

Chito Mañago, spokesperson for Apo Land, earlier denied that the company had conducted quarry operations in the mountains of Naga City.

“What was done was an access road development,” he said. Still, the company will conduct its own investigation to find out what caused the landslide, he added.

On Saturday, rescuers briefly suspended search and rescue operations due to a heavy downpour past 1 p.m. Two life detection machines from the Office of Civil Defense in Manila arrived in Naga City.

About 270 government troops and policemen were deployed to prevent residents from returning to high-risk villages.  Soldiers and police have forcibly evacuated residents of five villages that were found vulnerable to landslides. —With reports from Julie M. Aurelio and AP

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TAGS: Apo Cement quarry, Cebu landslide, Rodrigo Duterte
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