Taal survivors call to God, government for delivery from tragic 2020
Maria Elenita La Luz looks inside her damaged childhood home in Taal Volcano Island on Dec. 5, 2020.
Philstar.com/EC Toledo IV

Taal survivors call to God, government for delivery from tragic 2020

Efigenio Toledo IV (Philstar.com) - December 20, 2020 - 12:35pm

BATANGAS, Philippines — She walks through what used to be a pavement surrounded by lush vegetation as she points at rubble that used to be a home and says: "This was my mother-in-law's house. It was beautiful here. We were happy and content."

Maria Elenita La Luz, 32, recalls what she went through on the fateful Sunday when Taal erupted—worrying for her family while attending to tourists who had hired her as a tour guide—not knowing that their entire lives were about to change.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the entire country into a lockdown, residents of Taal Volcano Island, fondly called by residents as "Pulo," were already fighting for survival after one of the country’s most active volcanoes woke up from decades of sleep.

Then, just as they are starting to rebuild their lives and community, three major typhoons pummelled the country, affecting the residents of Pulo whose main livelihood after tourism was suspended is fishing.

Residents of Pulo say their local government promised them relocation and housing, but that was before the pandemic hit. They have no idea how much longer they will have to wait.

Clinging to hope

"I still thank God that my children and I are safe here," Victoria Pornea says in Filipino as she sweeps aside a blanket that serves as a door to her makeshift tent.

Before losing her husband to an ulcer and one of her daughters to drowning, Pornea worked as a vendor on Pulo when it was still bustling with tourists.

Pornea, 45, lives with her four remaining children in an evacuation center in Talisay, Batangas that they share with 50 more families. They stay in a large room with blankets serving as walls. 

A covered court and unfinished two-story building at Tumaway Senior High School are the hopefully temporary home to 126 displaced families. Despite the tight quarters, not a single case of COVID-19 has been reported there, evacuees say.

Geraldine Mendoz and her family have been living at the evacuation center since January. Asked where she gets the strength to endure, she gives a quick answer: her children.

"Three typhoons came, the volcano erupted, COVID came, we are still calling to God. He saved us from the volcano eruption, we pray to Him to do it again."

Pornea, Mendoza and La Luz share the same sentiment of waiting for the local government to fulfill a promise to find them a place they can call their new home.

A new haven

An hour-and-a-half drive and a 15-minute hike through the mountainous town of San Luis brings you to a clearing where houses, garden plots, a school, and a basketball court will greet you.

This is where members of an indigenous Aeta community are rebuilding their lives after they were forced to live upland after years of living by the sea.

Their clan had planned for their relocation but the eruption of Taal volcano left them no choice but to move immediately, even without shelter ready or access to water and electricity.

Fortunately, donations and support from private individuals and organizations, and the local government came.

"These houses were not here before, we built them on our own. We are really thankful for all the donations," Kagawad Ronald, a member of the community’s traditional council, says as he walks among the newly-built houses and gardens of their new community.

"We are thankful to the local government and some of the residents who listened to us. We now have land we can proudly call our own."

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

NOVEL CORONAVIRUS TAAL VOLCANO TAAL VOLCANO ERUPTION 2020
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