CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2020 - 12:00am

A number of people have been talking about the “good” traffic problem on the South Luzon Expressway that’s being caused by “Convoys” of vehicles bringing relief goods to the various evacuation and relocation centers around Taal and towns of Batangas province. In spite of the unusually heavy traffic created by so many vehicles, motorists have often mentioned that the slight delay or inconvenience that those convoys create is a small sacrifice in exchange for the hope and relief they bring to the victims of the Taal volcano eruption. You won’t hear or read anything to the contrary from me as far as that is concerned.But I would like to call the attention of organizers as well as the authorities to make sure that the convoy drivers know what they are suppose to do and where they are suppose to be when forming and driving in convoys.

Any experienced driver will tell you that driving in a convoy formation is essentially for protection in high risk or challenging areas. The “Convoy” is not an attempt to form a train or unbroken formation where you will not allow other vehicles to pass or get in between, it is meant to make sure that you see the vehicle ahead of you and behind you so that no one goes too far ahead or gets left behind. Unfortunately, almost all the convoys I watched and drove past this weekend were led by drivers who did not understand that they are supposed to be in the right most lane and supposed to maintain a slower than normal speed because of their added cargo, impaired view of traffic around them and also so that the other drivers in the “Convoy” do not have to play catch up. It is called pacing or setting the ideal speed. All the “Convoys” I saw last Friday morning stayed on the overtaking lane thereby blocking and slowing down other vehicles. Ironically, a number of them were local government vehicles and drivers even firemen who refused to give way to the faster vehicles trying to overtake or get past them. As a result many parts of the SLEX especially the Star Toll were blocked by slow vehicles on the right lane and “Convoys” on the left lane. Things got so frustrating and crazy for other drivers that they started passing on the emergency lane.

Officials of SLEX and STAR tollway have promised to send out patrols and put up billboards to remind “Convoy” drivers to stay on the right lane and drive at moderate speeds. But let’s not wait for the signs to go up and the patrols to flag drivers down. PLEASE if you want to join those “Convoys” please remind yourselves that you are CIVILIANS delivering relief goods and not a platoon of military vehicles delivering weapons and munitions. Neither are you ambulances or paramedics in life and death situations! If you are overloaded with relief goods and volunteers and can’t drive at the required speed then stay on the right most lane. Let people know that you are good samaritans not aspiring extras for the latest “Fast & Furious” episode. You are also Not working on a government project so please don’t use signs saying: Do Not Delay. Stop play acting or feeding your fantasy of being in a war movie or action film. And oh, by the way, speaking of “Convoys”; if GOD forbid you find yourself in a funeral procession, please,don’t block off people trying to pass in between cars. They may actually be part of the funeral entourage who just did not get a number or a copy of your SPECIALLY PRINTED vehicle numbers. The dead is not going to come back to life even if you break the chain of cars.

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While most people are still on the topic of ashfall and alert levels, very little has been said about the equalizing factor of a volcanic eruption. One week ago, I attended a trade show that was all about fighting cocks and gamefowl where breeders were selling roosters and hens anywhere from 5 thousand to 35 thousand pesos. If you were a breeder with a good reputation it followed that your prices would be on the high side, except if you happen to own a farm that was located on Volcano island or somewhere in the 14-kilometer danger zone. I actually met someone who literally had a fire sale and was selling all the chickens they managed to get off Taal island. The breeder lost everything else and was just trying to raise enough cash to rent a new location for his farm as far away from Taal as possible. I later found out that there were many gamefowl farms and some piggeries located inside the 14-kilometer danger zone. Fortunately for the Sabungeros, their farms can be pulled out in 48 hours and set up quickly. 

While many people became familiar with the name “Mataas Na Kahoy” not everyone knows that the area is home to many sprawling rest houses that cost as much as a hundred million or thereabouts. A number of movie stars, TV personalities and businessmen have their “retirement” homes or weekend getaways there and one of the biggest attractions is because they have one of the best views of Taal Volcano. Tragically, the very beauty that attracted them was the same one that ruined their villas and has cast them out. All of this serves as a reminder that all our material possessions and businesses can disappear in a cloud of ash or rendered unlivable by an act of God or natural disaster. While comforting and counseling evacuees, our Head Pastor at Victory Christian fellowship Lipa spoke with an evacuee who shared something that we should all keep in mind next time we want to buy “Stuff.” He said: “Pastor, it’s amazing to realize that in a disaster no one picked up a 50” flat screen, cabinet or refrigerator. We chose our loved ones and our lives. Then you discover what really matters.”

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