The relatives feel that there seems to be no sense of urgency in the search and rescue operations being conducted by the company. They say that at its current pace, the search would take three months.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
RODRIGUEZ, Rizal – Roxine Olog, 52, spent the night in a makeshift tent they built Friday night April 19 along the highway at the village of San Isidro in Rodriguez, Rizal. She and the rest of her family are waiting for announcements from the dumpsite management. Her husband Rubedico, 53, was among the four workers who were buried alive in an avalanche of garbage last April 19, 2013.
“All I have in my mind right now is to retrieve his body,” Roxine told Bulatlat.com.
Rubedico and co-workers Pablito Esto, Eddie Malano and Garry Balahibo were working when the garbage avalanched last April 19 at around 3:30 p.m.
The 19-hectare Rizal Provincial Sanitary Landfill, wholly owned and operated by International Swims, is located at the upland of the village of San Isidro. It was opened in 2007 and receives 3,500 tons of garbage, on the average, from Metro Manila.
Vicente Tomazar, director of the Calabarzon Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said in a Philippine Daily Inquirer report that the heavy downpour two hours before the incident could have triggered the garbage avalanche.
But residents believe that an explosive reportedly used that morning in a quarry beside the landfill could have triggered the avalanche.
Though Roxine said there is a glimmer of hope that her husband might still be alive, she has also accepted the possibility that he might be dead by now. “It has been more than 48 hours since he was buried alive,” she added.
A good provider
Rubedico has been working for the dumpsite for nearly nine years. He earned roughly $7.75 per day. “If he works from 4:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., he would get $10,” Roxine said.
She added that her husband is hardworking. “That’s why he was buried alive. He does not want to be absent from work.”
Their shift should have ended by 12 noon but, relatives said, the four workers were told that the company asked them to extend their working hours to clear the canal of garbage down the road. While fixing it, the mountain of garbage became unstable and started to slide down on them.
Eyewitnesses related to the family that the backhoe driver, Garry Balahibo, was even trying to keep the garbage from falling while giving his co-workers the signal to run for safety. Rubedico Olog ran fast and could have made it to safety but, they said, he returned to help another co-worker.
When Roxine learned about what happened, she immediately rushed to the management’s office but the security guards would not let them in. “They said we are not allowed to go inside. But I asked them how would they feel if they were in my place?”
She said her husband is a good person.
“He is also a very good grandpa. He never scolded the children. Even when he is angry, he still manages to smile,” Mary Christ, 24, Rubedico’s daughter-in-law told Bulatlat.com.
No seeming urgency
Roel Mercado, the younger brother of the backhoe driver Garry Balahibo, said there is seemingly no urgency in the search and rescue operations. Contrary to earlier media reports that said there are six backhoes deployed in the area to dig for the buried workers, he said, there are only three, although at the time of the interview only two were being used.
“I observed the lack of equipment being used in the search and rescue operations. It pains me,” Mercado said.
Tomazar said in a report that they could not fast track their search due to the unstable ground that could trigger another garbage slide and the poor mobile phone signal. Rescuers, composed of policemen, soldiers and personnel from the local government’s disaster office, could not stay very long in their search because the gas coming from the garbage makes them dizzy, Tomazar claimed.
Mercado said if more backhoes would be used, he would volunteer to operate it. “It is not about the pay. I will do it because I want to see my brother,” he said.
Mercado said his brother is a good man. He is married and has three children, aged 13, nine and six. “They are looking for their papa. They miss him terribly,” he added.
Just before the accident, Mercado told Bulatlat.com, he even bought his brother Garry a second hand motorcycle because he found it tiring to walk on his way to work.
Only source of income
Narciso Balahibo, Garry’s uncle, told Bulatlat.com that most of the residents in San Isidro and neighboring villages earn from either working as drivers or machine operators in the dumpsite and in the quarry. Some who could not land a job there earn money by making charcoal or driving tricycles.
He added that a lot of residents refused the then proposed dumpsite. But when it finally operated, “they eventually accepted it because it brought them a source of income.”
Like his nephew Mercado, Narciso said it seems there is no urgency on the part of the management and the local government to remove the garbage. He added that if Garry is still inside the air-conditioned backhoe during the time of the avalanche, he might still be alive. But with the pace of the search, it might not be possible.
“The garbage they need to remove is so huge. But they could only remove about the size of a fist at a time,” he said, adding that if this pace will continue, the search for his nephew Garry and the three others might last up to three months.
The International Swims, the owner and operator of the landfill, meanwhile, said they are owning up the moral and legal liability for the incident. In a text message, one of the relatives of the four co-workers said families of the victims would receive a life pension from the company.
The Balahibo family is not yet considering legal action. Narciso said, “We just want to see our relatives. (If they are dead) we would want to give them a decent burial. Only then would we be at peace.”