‘Ompong’ death toll rises to 88; Itogon searchers step up rescue

Recovery efforts continued Thursday in areas hit by landslides in the wake of Typhoon “Ompong.”

Police counted 88 confirmed fatalities and said 64 were missing. Of the total deaths, 72 were from the Cordillera region.

In the town of Itogon, Benguet alone, 57 people remained trapped under the mud, where a landslide buried bunk houses for miners, Mayor Victorio Palangdan said on radio dzMM.

As the grim search continued, House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo expressed support for the total prohibition of open-pit mining to prevent the further degradation of mountains and waterways.

At a congressional hearing of the House committee on ways and means, Arroyo proposed the inclusion of a provision in House Bills 442 and 7994 that would explicitly disallow open-pit mining.

The two bills seek to establish a fiscal regime for the mining industry.

“Our bill will specifically, will explicitly prohibit open-pit mining as defined and give a grace period to be determined by the [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] during which they pay the tax that you say will kill the industry,” Arroyo said.

At the same time, Arroyo also pressed for a clear definition of “open-pit” mining as the House has yet define what it is.

Arroyo also urged the mining sector to confer with the Department of Finance on the sector’s proposal regarding the tax on mining.

She gave the DOF three days to submit their suggestions on her proposed provision. If none are received, the House would continue to draft the bills, she said.

Arroyo set the deadline after learning from Gloria Tan Climaco, a member of the board of trustees of the Chamber of Mines, that it was not the DOF’s priority to implement a fiscal regime in the mining industry.

“So I suggest that the industry submit the paper to him (Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez), since he has not yet sent a communication that says, notwithstanding the President’s statement, it is not his agenda, because that is what I am asking for,” Arroyo said.

“In the meantime, we presume it is his but we are not going to wait forever. Send it today, and if we do not hear from him in three days, then we will make our own committee report,” she added.

In his last State of the Nation Address, President Duterte warned the mining industry to improve its operations as the government will be imposing new mining policies.

“To the mining industry, I say this once again and maybe for the last time: Do not destroy the environment or compromise our resources,” Duterte said. “Repair what you have mismanaged. Try to change management radically because this time you will have respective policies. The prohibition of open-pit mining is one,” he added. 

As the death toll from “Ompong” rose, Queen Elizabeth II sent the Philippines her condolences.

In her message to President Duterte dated Sept. 18, the Queen said: “I was deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and the devastation caused by Typhoon Mangkhut. Prince Philip and I send our sincere condolences to all the victims, to those who have lost loved ones, and to those who have seen their homes and property destroyed.”

“My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by these tragedies,” she added.

Earlier, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) thanked the foreign states and international organizations that offered aid in its recovery and relief efforts following the onslaught of Ompong.

Australia, France, Canada, China, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States were among those that offered humanitarian assistance to the victims, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said.

As of Thursday, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported that the number of Filipinos affected by the typhoon had risen to 1.43 million, at least 139,609 of whom were being housed inside and outside evacuation centers. With PNA

Topics: Typhoon “Ompong" , Cordillera region , Victorio Palangdan , Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
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