News Commentary

Returning to ‘No Man's Land’

Deejae Dumlao - Philstar.com
Returning to �No Man's Land�
Few people are seen working on Taal Volcano Island on November 5, 2020.
Philstar.com/Deejae Dumlao

BATANGAS, Philippines — As the rest of the country went into quarantine because of COVID-19, the residents of Taal Volcano Island also had to deal with the aftermath spewed by its caldera.

From an island bustling with tourists to a wasteland, the island transformed into a post-apocalyptic ghost town covered in ash.

With fishing as one of their main sources of income, residents of Pulo found it difficult to make a living as the island was locked down as well.

Despite government warnings and President Rodrigo Duterte declaring Pulo a "no man's land," some residents chose to stay temporarily in the disaster-stricken island for survival.

Santa Milagrosa, a village that has seen better days—now filled with deserted homes that give off an eerie atmosphere, is now declared a “no man's land” by the national government. However, a few people can still be seen working regularly.

"We occupy ourselves by tending to our livelihood, there's so much fish that needs to be taken care of... We were given permission to go back as we wait for relocation plans for evacuees," Benigno Mendoza, the village chief of Santa Milagrosa, said.

According to Mendoza, the fish that they're tending to are worth millions, "We can't just leave them," he added as he pointed out the fish enclosures around the lake.

"The relief goods that are given to us are sufficient, but it's difficult for us to just depend on social welfare. We still need allowances for other necessities," said Umbap and Buddy, fishermen from the village.

"We came back to tend to our animals, especially the fish. For us, it's much better here as it's already our way of living."

However, some island residents chose to take refuge at evacuation centers for easier access to relief goods. 

For Mylene, who is staying at Aya Evacuation Center, "We still chose to stay as we're given priority there. The chances of getting goods are better than those staying at their safehouses. A chance like this is rather rare and it'll be a shame if we didn't take it," she said.

According to the evacuees, there were relocation plans for the victims, but that was before the pandemic. They still have no idea how much longer they will be taking refuge in evacuation centers.

Reporting for this story was supported by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.

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