Search for Davao de Oro landslide survivors ends | Inquirer News

Search for Davao de Oro landslide survivors ends; death toll at 71

/ 05:17 AM February 14, 2024

PHOTO: Responders, backed by heavy equipment, comb “ground zero” of a massive landslide in Masara village on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024. STORY: Search for Davao de Oro landslide survivors ends; death toll at 71

HIGH-RISK OPERATION | Responders, backed by heavy equipment, comb “ground zero” of a massive landslide in Masara village on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024. (File photo by FRINSTON LIM / Inquirer Mindanao)

MACO, Davao de Oro, Philippines — The search for possible survivors in the massive landslide that hit Masara village here ended on Tuesday, a week after the tragedy struck, with rescuers shifting their efforts to the search and retrieval of more bodies beginning on Wednesday.

Mayor Voltaire Rimando issued an executive order directing volunteers at the disaster’s “ground zero” to focus on finding those still missing and presumed dead.


The shift came as search and rescue operations were halted at 2 p.m. on Tuesday after a portion of the face of the mountain where the landslide hit moved, posing risks to volunteers, deputy incident commander Ferdinand Dobli told reporters in a briefing.


“The [Mines and Geosciences Bureau] had warned us of a possible movement of the face of the landslide, prompting the relocation of our command post, which directly faces the slide, some 50 meters back,” Dobli said.

Leah Anora, head of the management of the dead and the missing cluster, said the toll as of Tuesday stood at 71 dead, 17 of them yet to be identified.

Some 47 people are listed as missing, although the number might drop after validation by the National Bureau of Investigation.

Dobli said the retrieval operations would ensure the utmost respect and dignity for the bodies.

“Once we’re able to detect that there’s a body under a spot, we will mark it and remove the cadaver as careful as possible,” he said.


At least 204 volunteers from the military, coast guard, and other groups are deployed in two shifts daily to scour an area of over 10 hectares and find bodies.

To keep watch for possible ground movements, a drone is flown hourly to survey and take pictures of the face of the landslide and have these analyzed to determine the extent of a possible movement.

“That will be the basis if the risk is moderate or advanced,” said Dobli, adding an advanced risk would mean the operation cannot continue.

“Even as our operation plan is already in place (for the start of retrieval operations), we will still wait for the advice as to the status on the ground before responders can come in,” he added.

Temporary burial

The local government will temporarily bury the unclaimed bodies on Wednesday. Authorities had given families until Tuesday night to provide information leading to the identification of their missing kin and eventually claim their bodies.

Authorities cited sanitation and health reasons for this decision. As of Tuesday afternoon, the bodies of unidentified fatalities were in funeral parlors in Montevista and Mawab towns.

The mass graves have been prepared in Elizalde village here and in an area in the nearby town of Mawab, said Anora.

According to Anora, bodies that are already decomposing will be temporarily buried on the recommendation of the Maco municipal health officer.

“The bodies are in white cadaver bags, treated but not embalmed for religious considerations,” Anora said. “Each of the cadaver bags is marked with a case number for easier identification when needed to be exhumed.”

She said the burial was also in compliance with the protocol given by the Department of Health on the proper disposition of unidentified bodies.

House probe

At the House of Representatives, a group of lawmakers filed resolutions seeking an inquiry into the landslide.

House Deputy Majority Leader Erwin Tulfo, Davao de Oro Rep. Ruwel Peter Gonzaga, Benguet Rep. Eric Yap, Quezon City Rep. Ralph Tulfo, and ACT-CIS party-list Reps. Edvic Yap and Jocelyn Tulfo, as well as the Makabayan bloc, filed House Resolution Nos. 1586 and 1587 to investigate what they maintained was a “catastrophe that could have been avoided,” citing the “no-build zone” declaration over ground zero of the tragedy at Barangay Masara.

In a statement on Tuesday, Tulfo, an ACT-CIS party-list representative, said, “What I cannot understand at this point is that this catastrophe could have been avoided if only laws were strictly implemented.”

“The question is, why were people allowed to live in that landslide-prone area?” he added in Filipino. “Somebody has to take responsibility over this tragedy.”

In HR 1586, the Tulfos, Gonzaga, and Yap said a review of existing laws enforced by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau was necessary to “identify gaps, deficiencies and opportunities for enhancement to prevent similar tragedies in the future.”

House Assistant Minority Leader Arlene Brosas, who represents Gabriela women’s party list, and her fellow Makabayan bloc members, Representatives France Castro (ACT Teachers) and Raoul Manuel (Kabataan), filed HR 1587 to also seek a probe, citing the lifting of a nine-year ban on new mining agreements by the previous administration.

READ: Death toll in Davao de Oro landslide climbs to 54

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“Environmental advocates oppose large-scale and open pit mining operations due to their destructive, lasting impact on our communities,” saying that what happened in Davao de Oro was a “living example” of its horribly adverse effect to communities, said Brosas.

“The government must, at the very least, suspend, if not entirely ban, all large-scale mining operations in the country. With the monsoon season nearly upon us, it is imperative that we take action to prevent incidents like the one in Davao de Oro from occurring in other areas,” the Makabayan lawmakers said.

TAGS: Davao de Oro landslide

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