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BEHIND THE LENS: To interview or not to interview

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/14 January) — On our second day of coverage of the landslide in Pantukan, Compostela Valley, we decided to take the Tibagon route because it was still 9:30a.m. Besides, the weather looked fine that Friday, January 6, 2012.

The chopper was on standby in case there would be survivors in the landslide. Or it could be used to transport the cadavers if the weather permitted. But I really had doubts because based on our experience last year in Sitio Panganason, the nearest landing zone was at least three kilometers away.

We asked around if the chopper would really insert additional rescue volunteers or additional soldiers to secure the area, but no one could answer us. Everyone was busy. Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo was coming, and everyone was busy preparing reports or presentations. So we decided to take Tibagon Route so that we don’t have to hike back and forth from the site to Sitio Haguimit. Besides, muscle pain in our legs would slow us down.

Bibo arrived and once again we had our rain boots, water, biscuits, my headlamp (in case we went down very late in the afternoon and darkness fell while we’re still on the road).

Around a kilometer away from the highway, we passed by an excavator moving towards our direction too.  I signaled to the driver if he’s going to the landslide site. He just gave me a nod. The heavy equipment was moving as slow as a snail.

After an hour on the road, we had to drive along the river. But that was just for about 50 meters, and then we ascended back to the road. Bibo said that during heavy rains, it is impossible for motorcycles to cross because of the strong current when water level rises.

The view of dense forest was quite rejuvenating. About 30 minutes to our destination, we could see the long strip from a distance; it’s the landslide site, which we reached after at least two hours of roller-coaster ride. This time, over a hundred volunteers – small-scale miners, soldiers, police and workers of Apex Mining – were digging, hoping to find survivors.

At the “temporary morgue,” five more bodies had piled up as we arrived.

Several photographers and TV crew were already around busy interviewing people – families of the victims, rescue workers, miners, police and the military.

Ruby decided to stay in the upper portion of the landslide site as some rescue workers were also digging near the spot where bunkhouses used to stand. I went down again near the foot of the landslide. From the top of the hill, the rescue volunteers looked like busy ants marching through the mud and rocks. As usual, they were still using water to soften the mud.

Tolentino children

Then one of the miners told me that one of their colleagues lost all her daughters in the landslide. Three have already been retrieved while the other one was still missing.

He pointed to a lanky guy, wearing short pants and on barefoot, who joined the rescue volunteers from Apex Mines in searching for her missing daughter, 8-year old Cho-cho. He is Bernabe Tolentino, whose three other daughters were retrieved hours after the landslide. Two TV crews from Davao were talking to him. A villager told me that Bernabe was still in shock and had not eaten his meals since the landslide happened.

I checked my watch, it’s almost 12 noon.

After the TV crews were done interviewing him, I wanted to interview him too. But I had a dilemma because I knew he was grieving and obviously still in a state of shock. I observed that when he was being interviewed, he was not looking straight at the camera. He was not simply shy, I believed he was hesitant. I assumed that what he had in mind was to search for his daughter, instead of talking to strangers.

I waited for a few minutes before taking some photos while he and the volunteers were digging. Then I moved up near the spot where he was digging. I waited for a few minutes again until he would take a rest before I would talk to him.

When a miner from Apex talked to him and Bernabe stood still, I took the opportunity to ask my first question. I think he was asked by the miner if he had eaten his meals up in the bunk house of Hexat Mining.

He just replied: “Sige lang, okay ra ko.”

While I was asking him, he was really hesitant. After asking a few questions and getting the names of his children, I moved back since he was about to start digging again.

As the small-scale miners were digging, we could hear some of them looking for a certain “Ange.” I did not ask who is he and why he seems to be popular in the village.

I returned to the upper portion of the hill and rejoined Ruby and the rest of the journalists.

The backhoe

Around 2p.m., we left the site and headed back to Tibagon. An hour later, we met the backhoe on our way down. We stopped and asked the driver if they were really going to the landslide site to help the rescue operations. He was accompanied by two assistants.

In vernacular, I asked him: ”Are you going to landslide site?” The driver said yes and asked: “Are we still far? How many hours to go? How long did you travel?”

Bibo told him that they hadn’t reached midway yet. “It takes at least two hours to drive to the landslide site,” he said with a chuckle.

The backhoe driver laughed and just shook his head. Remember, we passed them 9a.m. around a kilometer away from the highway, running as slow as a snail. Later we learned that the backhoe arrived on Sunday. So they spent three days on the road.

A military official quipped: “Tamang-tama pagdating ng backhoe, retrieval operations na.” (Keith Bacongco / Mindanews)

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