Bless the beasts
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - January 17, 2020 - 12:00am

Among the most touching images from the unfolding disaster spawned by Taal Volcano are those of the displaced residents, defying authorities and returning to ground zero, volcano island, to get their horses and cows.

The animals were left on the island in the rush to evacuate after the volcano spewed those plumes of ash and fragments that were blown all the way to Metro Manila last Sunday.

Considering the suddenness of what volcanologists have described as a phreatic explosion, the rush to evacuate people from the island makes complete sense.

It also makes sense to implement a forced evacuation of residents from the areas within an expanded danger zone around Taal Lake.

The danger zone is the hardest hit by ashfall and lies within striking distance of a scary worst-case scenario raised by volcanologists: a “base surge” or “lateral eruption” (as opposed to a vertical one that we commonly see) or a “volcanic tsunami.”

As explained by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), a volcanic tsunami is triggered when magma movement in a volcano field displaces water in a crater lake, like water in a glass being shaken violently. The displaced water then smashes into the lakeshore areas.

Last Wednesday, there was a report that water had receded from Pansipit River, which connects Taal Lake to the sea. Could this be an indication of a forthcoming volcanic tsunami? An ocean tsunami is preceded by the water receding a long way from the shore.

All the more that animals shouldn’t be left behind, since there is a possibility that Taal is gearing for one of its most powerful eruptions, and there might be no hope for residents to ever return to their homes.

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Taal is said to be the country’s second most active volcano. Its ash explosions occur with such regularity that they are tourist attractions. Even with its more-powerful-than-usual explosion last Sunday, affected residents probably thought the volcano would simmer down quickly enough, allowing people to return to their homes, so it would be OK to leave animals behind.

But with the earthquakes now occurring around Batangas (over 3,000 tremors had been recorded as of yesterday) plus the extensive ground fissuring and receding of water from the river and lakeshore areas, it’s prudent to heed the Phivolcs warning about a volcanic tsunami or a base surge.

Such a cataclysmic disaster could swamp the lakeshore areas with superheated water and lahar, burying entire towns and redrawing the map of Batangas, which has happened in the past.

Considering the history of Taal’s activity, such a worst-case scenario can’t be dismissed.

In the lakeshore area of Talisay, which used to be just a 15-minute drive along a scenic winding road from Tagaytay, there’s a spot in Club Balai Isabel resort where the ruins of the Old Tanauan stone church are located.

The ruins are deeper in the ground than the Cagsawa church near Daraga, Albay that was buried when Mayon Volcano erupted in 1814. Old Tanauan church was destroyed during Taal’s eruption in 1754, during which the lakeshore areas were devastated by enormous flooding, forcing Tanauan to relocate to another area.

The Old Tanauan ruins are proof of the destructive capability of the Taal volcano network.

Rescue work for that kind of devastation must cover both humans and their animals.

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Animal rescue has not yet been designed into our disaster response protocols. Disaster mitigation personnel are trained for human rescue and relief work, not pet-sitting and animal husbandry. Evacuation centers are swamped enough with humans; how can we add animals to the burden?

But we should, and we can. The Bureau of Animal Industry can coordinate with local government units in saving livestock and pets in disaster areas. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources must exert effort to save wildlife. There are civic groups that are willing to assist in such efforts.

It is said that a society’s level of civilization is defined by the way people treat animals.

In this regard, we still have some ways to go. We now have laws against the maltreatment of animals. Like most of our laws, however, these are just suggestions rather than a promise.

There has been an increasing number of raids and arrests of people involved in the slaughter of dogs for food to wash down with alcoholic beverages. And Filipinos have become increasingly aware of the joys of keeping aspins or asong Pinoy as pets rather than having the dogs for pulutan. Our aspins are intelligent dogs with a wonderful disposition.

Still, the practice of eating dog meat prepared kilawin or ceviche style persists. And I swear that in one cooking school that I attended, our recipe for chicken filling for commercial siopao listed among the ingredients cat meat as extender and preservative. Cat meat, we were told, could be bought from a supplier in Pampanga.

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A good gauge of our attitude toward animals is how we treat them during emergencies. From what we have seen for many years now, Filipinos do value animals – pets and livestock alike.

You see the people during evacuations, saving their dogs and pigs during floods, carrying their chickens and goats as they flee to safety. Around Taal these days, we see people washing the ash off birds so the animals can fly again.

Local governments can set up holding areas where abandoned pets can be housed and fed, and where the owners can find the animals. If unclaimed within a certain period, the pets can be put up for adoption.

The government can also look at temporary shelters with enclosures for animals, which are now being used in certain countries.

For many people, animals are regarded as members of the household. During emergency rescue operations, no member of the household must be left behind.

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