COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

It is really distressing to see many of our countrymen were caught by surprise when Taal Volcano suddenly went into eruptive stage. When elements of Mother Nature combine forces, they produce the most disastrous results far and wide. While unleashing sulfuric gases and ashes, winds took Taal’s emissions as far wide as Metro Manila and Central Luzon last Sunday.

Though small in size, Taal lives up to its reputation as among the most active volcanoes in the world.

A popular sight in Tagaytay City, local and foreign tourists thought there was nothing unusual when gaseous smoke started coming out of Taal’s craters in the middle of the lake. Without showing any prior signs of possible eruption, Taal started roaring and billowed bigger cloud of smoke in a matter of few hours.

Initially, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) first detected magnitude 2.3 earthquake in Batangas at 1:56 p.m. Sunday. Its epicenter was pointed at 13 kilometers northwest of San Juan town and felt at Intensity 2 in Tagaytay City. It was then the phreatic activity of Taal started, or the steam-driven smoke oozed out of its main crater.

With unusual speed of “escalation’ of volcanic activity of Taal, Phivolcs raised the Alert Level from 2 to 4 which means a hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days.  

Actually, Taal – along with equally active Mt. Mayon in Albay – has been placed under Alert Level 2 since last year, according to Phivolcs volcano monitoring division chief Ma. Antonia Bornas. Alert Level 2 is equivalent to a warning for people to stay out of harm’s way at least 14 kilometers permanent danger zone around the volcanic area. 

So it is quite unfair to accuse Phivolcs of alleged failure to give advance notice to the affected residents of Taal to evacuate hours after it began its latest episode of eruptive stage.

Both Taal and Mayon and ten other active volcanoes in our country are under Phivolcs’ close monitoring. But the entire volcano island of Taal, in particular, is a permanent danger zone at all alerts from Alert 0. Upon latest advisory of the Phivolcs, local government authorities have imposed mandatory evacuation of residents living within the 14-kilometer permanent danger zone around Taal volcano.

The maximum is Alert Level 5 when there is actual “explosive eruption” already taking place. Thank God, Taal has simmered down but Renato Solidum, head of the Phivolcs, warned yesterday the worst is not yet over.

In fact, Phivolcs noted much stronger volcanic earthquakes were being felt in Taal, Tagaytay and nearby towns of Alitagtag, Agoncillo, Talisay, to name some. The state seismology agency recorded 212 volcanic quakes around Taal in the past 24 hours. Eighty-one of the volcanic quakes were felt at intensities 1 to 5. 

Phivolcs seismologists suspect these stronger earthquakes, “fissuring of grounds,” (or the ground soil breaks and opens up), and new gaseous vents emerge around the crater area strongly indicate Taal’s magma collection rising and being pushed up of the volcano’s mouth. Thus, this may likely trigger “explosive eruption” when lava flows out, pyroclastic and lahar materials might be discharged any time soon. 

Bornas likened the looming hazardous “explosive eruption” of the volcano to that of a Coke. When you shake the Coke bottle or the can, the carbonated spirit pushes out its liquid content. Unfortunately, in the latest volcanic activity of Taal, Bornas noted, modern and high-tech gadgets planted by Phivolcs around Taal volcano did not detect any signs at all of its pre-eruptive stage.

It was a blessing in disguise that the abrupt eruptions of Taal began while still daytime when everybody was awake and aware to immediately flee out of harm’s way. But still many residents and people living around and near Taal volcano and lake waited too long before they left their houses while the volcanic ashes rained all over the place.

 By the time they left their houses, the roads were shrouded already in thick gray smoke and ash particles turned into sludge when they got wet from the rains that followed. The entire Batangas declared a state of calamity on Monday after Taal volcano shrouded the province and nearby areas with ash, sent thousands to evacuation centers, and forced the cancellation of classes and suspension of work in government offices all the way to Metro Manila.

The ash clouds from Sunday’s eruption prompted the overnight closure of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) that necessitated cancellations of all domestic and international flights while other flights were diverted to Clark Airport.

While all of these were taking place, President Rodrigo Duterte was himself caught unaware and could not fly out immediately from Davao City, spending his usual weekend break at his residence. Setting aside personal safety, President Duterte obviously commandeered his security aides to fly him back to Manila first thing in the morning of Monday. The presidential plane was the first to land at the NAIA tarmac.

As of this writing, the President was supposed to be flown by helicopter to undertake aerial survey of Taal-hit areas in Batangas. “But I’ve been warned by a doctor to be careful...I have dynamics with smoking, the years of smoking, your lungs are affected,” the 74-year-old former Davao City Mayor told Palace reporters last Monday night.
Asked if he could withstand the ashfall, Duterte replied: “Kainin ko pa ‘yang ashfall na ‘yan. Pati ‘yang taal na ‘yan ihian ko ‘yan. P***** bwisit na ‘yan (I can even eat ashfall. I can even pee on Taal, that b****, pest).” 

Just last Friday, the President jokingly took potshots at the opposition for their persistent claims about his dark, ashen face as indicative of his supposed fatal illness. “Sabi nila ‘yung mga tao daw may sakit sa kidney, umiitim daw” (They say a person afflicted with kidney failure turns dark colored),” he sneered.

At least now, President Duterte can brag about his ashfall look to commiserate with the ashfall-covered Taal folks at the evacuation centers.


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