But Año said a law is needed to ban human settlement within the 14-kilometer radius and set aside the budget for the relocation not only of residents, but also local government centers.
Geremy Pintolo/ File
Año backs permanent Taal ban; Batangas government to comply
Romina Cabrera (The Philippine Star) - January 25, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Interior Secretary Eduardo Año has expressed support for the proposed permanent ban or relocation of families living within the danger zone surrounding Taal Volcano in Batangas.

But Año said a law is needed to ban human settlement within the 14-kilometer radius and set aside the budget for the relocation not only of residents, but also local government centers.

Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas said they would abide with any order to permanently close the danger zone and relocate the affected residents.

The danger zone covers at least 13 towns and two cities in the province of Batangas. 

“Yes, I agree to that proposal in order to once and for all ensure safety of the people living around Taal Volcano. It would entail time and resources, particularly budget, to relocate the populace but it’s worth it,” he said in a text message. 

The head of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said the 14-kilometer zone could be declared a national ecopark, but residents and local government centers would have to be relocated outside the radius. 

“If we don’t do this now, the same problem will occur every 40 to 50 years,” Año added. 

At least seven municipalities have been placed on partial and total lockdown following the eruption of the volcano on Jan. 12. 

Mandatory evacuation was implemented in 199 barangays in 15 municipalities and cities in Batangas and Cavite, areas identified as susceptible to ballistic projectiles, base surges, and volcanic tsunami as a result of the eruption.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque earlier said in an interview with “The Chiefs” on OneNews that a majority of Cabinet members believe there is a need to permanently relocate families living in the danger zone. 

He noted that the budget would be better spent on permanent relocation sites instead of building better evacuation sites for affected residents. 

The cost of building these permanent relocation sites for nearly 200,000 displaced families could reach P60 billion. 

Police have also warned that residents who violate the 14-kilometer radius could be left on their own as they will no longer conduct rescue operations if there is another eruption. 

This was the directive of the Police Regional Office in Calabarzon to ensure the safety of the 500 policemen securing the periphery of the danger zone.

“We’ll follow what the government says,” said Mandanas.

Taal Volcano ejected thick white plumes of steam, ash and smoke anew yesterday morning as the government eyes the permanent relocation of residents living within the danger zones near the volcano.

According to Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) director Renato Solidum Jr., the steam emission – the strongest in the past few days – occurred at around 5:11 a.m.

“The steam emission was white to dirty white. The dirty white would mean that some minor ash was carried,” he said.

Solidum explained that the steam emission is an indication of activity underneath the volcano.

“The magma is still there and the (ground) water is being heated. There is just not enough force to trigger an eruption, but the steaming has slightly increased,” said Solidum, undersecretary of the Department of Science and Technology for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

“If the steam is trapped, there will be pressure. It may erupt,” he said.

Alert Level 4 remains in effect over Taal, more than a week after it erupted and forced the evacuation of nearly 148,000 people.

Under this alert status — the second-highest of a five-step warning system — people from the island and high-risk areas within the danger radius of the main crater have been evacuated.

Ma. Antonia Bornas, chief of Phivolcs volcano monitoring and eruption division, said ash that might be generated by low plumes would most likely fall in the towns of Agoncillo, Lemery, Taal and San Nicolas.

On Thursday, Solidum said there is a 30 percent chance of a hazardous explosive eruption of Taal.

“Three out of 10 chances or 30 percent is high. If we’re talking about smaller eruptions, the chances are high,” he said.

Classes reopen Feb. 3

The Department of Education (DepEd) has recommended the partial reopening of classes on Feb. 3 in areas affected by Taal Volcano.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones said they have recommended to the Batangas provincial government to allow the resumption of classes in some schools.

“We would like to recommend (the resumption of classes) in areas that are not affected,” she said.

“In the schools which we believe can be reopened and classes be resumed, (it may) start on Feb. 3,” she added.

While classes in surrounding provinces have already resumed, all schools in Batangas have been closed since the eruption of Taal Volcano on Jan. 12.

The volcano is still under Alert Level 4, with areas within the 14-kilometer danger zone evacuated due to the possibility of hazardous eruption.

“We’ll be looking at the specific situations of the different schools. But definitely it is going to be a challenge,” said the DepEd chief, noting the impact of class suspensions on the school calendar.

The DepEd said it will be up to the provincial government if it will heed its recommendation to lift the suspension of classes in some schools.

The secretary maintained that there will be no automatic graduation for affected students, saying they will still have to attend make-up classes when schools reopen to catch up with missed lessons.

She said the school year may spill over to April in some schools to ensure that the students are able to comply with the mandated minimum number of contact hours.

Briones also reiterated her call for the establishment of temporary shelters for evacuees to allow the resumption of classes in schools being used as evacuation centers.

As of Thursday, 319 schools are still being used as evacuation centers by over 11,000 families or almost 80,000 people.

The group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) is seeking the institutionalization of permanent evacuation centers with thousands of residents currently living in relief centers in Batangas following the eruption of Taal Volcano.

Pamalakaya was referring to House Bill No. 5259 filed by lawmakers under the Makabayan bloc, that “two to three contiguous barangays should be constructed with a permanent evacuation center to accommodate the population.”

“We repeatedly see this kind of problem following disasters. We thought we already drew lessons from past incidents but we still encounter similar problems. The government has again been lacking in preparedness,” said Pamalakaya chairperson Fernando Hicap.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian pushed for review of the impact and effectiveness of the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 or Republic Act 10121.

He cited urgency of the inquiry following the reported shortcomings in the implementation of the law during and after disasters, such as the eruption of Taal.

“It’s been nearly 10 years since Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 was enacted but there are still many gaps in our system that need to be addressed,” Gatchalian said.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported that as of Jan. 20, a total of 53,716 families in the provinces of Batangas, Quezon, Laguna and Cavite have been affected by the eruption. Almost 30,000 are now in evacuation centers.

Approximately 21,000 children remain in the 14-kilometer danger zone, according to the organization Save the Children. The NDRRMC also reported that agriculture damage already reached more than P3.2 billion.

Office of Civil Defense (OCD) administrator Ricardo Jalad warned that the continuing tremors around Taal area are clear warning of a possible hazardous explosion of the volcano any time.

This developed as the Army deployed another batch of soldiers and 12 military trucks to assist in the relief operations in evacuation centers in Batangas, Cavite and Tagaytay City.

The soldiers brought along with them relief items worth P25,000 composed of pails full of assorted goods, water and portable gas stoves for distribution to 11,000 affected families staying in evacuation centers in Batangas City, Balayan, Calaca, San Luis, San Pascual, Bauan, Mataasnakahoy, Fernando air Base, Malvar, Tanauan and Sto. Tomas town and in Cavite City, Dasmariñas and Alfonso and Tagaytay City. – With Helen Flores, Paolo Romero, Rhodina Villanueva, Jaime Laude, Ed Amoroso, Arnell Ozaeta

EDUARDO AñO LEONOR BRIONES
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