FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2020 - 12:00am

By today, all the communities covered by the 14-kilometer danger zone around the Taal Volcano should be on complete lockdown. That is a decision based on available science.

Over the last couple of days, emissions of sulfur dioxide have diminished. Fewer quakes have been felt in the area – although more sensitive instruments report low-grade quakes happening almost continuously. The ash cloud over the main crater is minimal.

The volcanologists are telling us, however, that the danger has not subsided. A hazardous eruption could happen in hours or days.

Magma infusions, the cause for the quakes over the past week, collected somewhere in the volcano’s belly. There could be a momentary block that occurred, reflecting in less steam coming out of the crater. But that actually makes things more dangerous. The moment that blockage is cleared by building pressure underneath, a hazardous eruption happens.

The eruption we are anticipating will be different from the ash explosion we were treated to on Jan. 12. The forthcoming one will be a spectacle of lava flows and hot rock being thrown out of the crater. It will be the sort of spectacle that killed 1,500 people in the brief Taal eruption of 1965.

It is easy to cast doubt on the expert assessment of the situation if one simply peers across the placid water and gaze at the rather restful volcano. In which case, this becomes a debate between science and gut feel.

The vice-mayor of Talisay town, appropriately named Charlie Natanauan, peered across the placid water and promptly declared it safe for his constituents to return home. Talisay is candidate to be the most devastated town in the event a killer eruption happens, sitting closest to the crater.

Natanauan, now icon of the anti-scientific school of thought, dismissed the assessment of Phivolcs director Renato Solidum as mere “opinion.” His own opinion is equally valid.

We see this sort of anti-scientific outburst all the time, especially when scientific evidence brings inconvenience. We see it all the time in the climate change debate where what Al Gore calls the “inconvenient truth” implies that economic growth be curtailed to slow global warming.

The vice-mayor, therefore, is not alone in his convenient opinion. If the public view was evenly divided between scientific evidence and self-serving opinion, this man could imaginably rally his constituency to defy the lockdown protocols and march back to their homes along the lakeshore.

Fortunately, in our scheme of things, scientific conclusions prevail. That is something to celebrate while calamities of every sort seem to befall us.

The DILG declared that anyone who breaks the lockdown protocols would be arrested. The PNP regional director used more colorful language. He declared that if anyone should be hurt obeying the vice-mayor’s call to return to the shoreline, he would see to it that Natanauan is thrown into the crater as “sacrifice” to appease the volcano.

Then again, the volcano could simply spit him out and continue on with its fury. Or, it might actually be appeased.

To be sure, the natives will become more restless as the days go by. It is not a delight to sit in an evacuation center and do nothing but wait.

Each day that passes will make confinement to the evacuation zones a form of cruel and inhuman punishment. The kids are off school. The animals could not be fed. Homes could be looted. Crowded conditions favor contagious diseases breaking out.

A few culinary celebrities have volunteered to cook meals for the evacuees. But most of the time, they eat food out of tin cans. This could not possibly be their vision of the good life.

These days, there is abundance of supplies for the evacuees. But if the dislocation continues on much longer, generosity could run out. Then the real problems begin.

Be forewarned: even after all volcanic activity dies down tomorrow, the safety protocols dictate that the authorities take two full weeks before lowering the alert levels.

Be safe. Listen only to the scientists.


Most of us really don’t mind if the already famous make the obligatory journey to one of the evacuation centers and distribute supplies to the dislocated duly recorded by their photographers for posterity (or for social media). We don’t mind as long as there is some real generosity behind the photo opportunity.

What is truly intolerable is the propensity of organized groups to use a calamity as staging ground for advancing their political agenda.

The other day, the spokesperson for a leftist party-list group demanded that tuition fee increases be stopped due the calamities befalling our people.

Good grief! We are situated along the Ring of Fire and squarely in the typhoon belt. Calamities will always be with us. Does that mean we permanently suspend the operation of market forces?

It is understandable if price controls are imposed in calamity zones for limited periods to deter profiteering. It is understandable if, for instance, prices for protective masks are frozen temporarily until the panic buying dies down.

But it is not understandable that tuition fees be frozen across the board for reasons of natural calamity. This will hurt the private schools we depend on so much to supplement the services offered by our public educational system. Their costs move, especially during calamities. They should not be disabled from recovering those costs. Otherwise, we produce another (man-made) calamity.

The unscrupulousness of these leftist groups in exploiting adverse events to advance their misguided political demands never ceases to amaze. They do so unabashedly and with very little flair.

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