Issue of October 14, 2018

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To the rescue

Dr. Ronald R. Bandonill is the medico-legal officer of the National Bureau of Investigation for Northern Luzon. He is my brother. He, among government doctors, was one of those given a mission order to assist in the retrieval and identification of the people who were buried at Barangay Ucab, Itogon, Benguet where a massive landslide occurred during the height of Typhoon Ompong.

I know him to be a tough, kind-hearted and jolly individual. For the past 25 years of his employment with the NBI, he had been dealing with cadavers and had been dissecting them to know the cause of their death with impersonal precision which, he proudly says, “is all part of a day’s work.”

It was different when I had dinner with him last Saturday. He was teary eyed and emotional about the tragic events that transpired in Ucab. He told me about the stories of good folks, ordinary miners and young lads whose dreams and lives were cut short when they were buried under a ton of mud and rocks while they were seeking for sanctuaries inside bunkhouses and abandoned mine tunnels.

He showed signs of psychological trauma while recanting the ordeal that he had to go through. He felt devastated in having to identify family members who were locked in a fearful embrace, knowing that their death was already at hand. He had to put tags on teenagers with mangled bodies and crushed bones, put back into place the heads, the arms and the legs of fathers and mothers who had no chance to close their eyes to ease the pain of death, and, he had to pull out the remains of babies who barely knew what it is like to live. He recalled of the dying who were saved but whose continued existence will forever be different.

“More would have perished if not for the timely assistance shown by kind-hearted individuals and unselfish entities,” my brother concluded. He made special mention of the unsolicited effort that was contributed by the Philex Mining Company, its personnel and its workers in the rescue and retrieval operations. “They are heroes. Without them, the operation would not have been as successful as it was,” he retorted. It was the only time his face lighted with a proud smile during our conversation.

“Ah yes, the Philex Mining Company. Lending assistance during rescue operations is nothing new to the corporation. It is part of its creed to help those in need. Who could forget the lead role it exemplified in the rescue operations during the July 1990 earthquake. Or its generous donations during the onslaught of Typhoon Ondoy in 2008.

As aptly described by Mr. Mike Toledo in his article “Heroes,” in the Oct. 9 issue of the Philippine Star, “The Philex rescue team is one such group of women and men who have decided to go beyond themselves to be of service to others and to the community. (But), when duty calls, they are like Clark Kent removing glasses and suit at the speed of light to reveal Superman, or Diana Prince spinning around to transform into Wonder Woman.”

Realistically, what Philex Mines did during the rescue and retrieval operations of the victims of Typhoon Ompong is not super by any length of imagination. However, it surely is heroic by any human standards.

Ground zero became impassable. All roads leading to and from it were sealed with boulders and debris. Any hope of entering the area to save those who were trapped was dwindling. Rescuers had to trek 500-meter steep trail to gain access. It was too demanding for the volunteers, so much so, that by the time they reached the devastated place, their energy is spent and they are too tired to do what they went there for.

To remove the obstacle, Engr. Eulalio Austin, the president and chief executive officer of Philex Mining Corporation came up with the idea of opening up an access road that traverses through the property of the Benguet Corporation. The latter agreed to the proposal. Thus, on Sept. 19, a backhoe and a 20-man advance force were dispatched. In a matter of hours, a road, which was dubbed the “Philex Rescue Road,” was built thereby allowing local and foreign volunteer rescuers to pass through.

In addition, more than 50 miners from the company were dispatched to dig for whatever remained of their small scale-miner colleagues and their trapped families. Every day, for the entire duration of the rescue operation, they were the first to arrive and the last to leave the site – a testimony to their dedication and unselfishness.

Nobody believed that the speedy response and the practical solutions that were proposed by the president and the officials of the Philex Mining Corporation can be done with such effectiveness and carried out with such efficiency. Yet, true to its motto that: “A gift of God, a work of man,” which the mines did during the tragedy is unquantifiable. It was during this time that its objective of not being only an entity for profit but one that shows it to be a judicial entity that is more human than a human being resonated to high heavens.

Atty. Ed Aratas, chief legal counsel and his deputy, Atty. Lionel Wanawan, assure the people that as long as Philex Mining Corporation is in existence, it will not renege in its civic duty to extend a helping hand to those in need. “As long as it takes,” is the new battle cry.

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