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Taal, ‘bayanihan’ and public safety

“Since Day One, we have been implementing measures to help the public, especially those most affected by this dangerous and challenging disaster. But we are not done yet.

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A typical Sunday for Filipinos is expected to be calm and peaceful, spent in church services, small family gatherings at the mall, and cars weaving through busy streets going to and from different directions. People on a relaxed weekend try to make the most of it before rushing back to work the following day.

I expected Sunday, 12 January 2020 to be just as normally quiet as any other Sunday. But I felt that it was going to be a lot different the moment I woke up.

Photos of people going around with face masks on and walking under the shade of umbrellas even though it was not raining flooded social media.

But the oddest thing that struck me was seeing tiny dust-like particles falling from the sky to the road filled with cars. For a moment there, I thought I was in Dubai, dune bashing.

I received a call from my brother-in-law in Tagaytay saying, that Taal Volcano is emitting clouds of smoke. Hours after that, he sent me photos showing that our car was covered with ashes, and that they’re having a hard time driving home.

Then it dawned on me. It was the ashfall churned by Taal Volcano in Batangas — oddly, over 100 kilometers from where I was. News broke out quick about how a thick black sludge from the volcano’s phreatic explosions had blanketed nearby towns and was powerful enough to reach our area.

This, I said to myself, was a signal for the Department of Transportation (DoTr) and its attached agencies to declare full alert.

This natural disaster, which is both unexpected and challenging, would once again throw the government’s disaster management and risk reduction capability into the spotlight.

True enough, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade immediately ordered all line agencies under the DoTr to be placed under full alert, saying, “Whatever is NECESSARY MUST BE DONE, in the interest of PUBLIC SAFETY.”

And so, with all hands on deck, the DoTr became one with the rest of government in working to ensure all available resources are mobilized and all possible mitigating measures are adopted to secure the safety and welfare of the people.

All four sectors — Aviation, Road, Maritime and Railways — were placed on full alert and, in the spirit of bayanihan have started to deliver nonstop services, especially to the affected residents of Batangas.

In the Aviation sector, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) are working closely to monitor and manage airport operations. Adhering to the directive of DoTr Secretary Tugade, airport authorities had requested airlines to hold flights to and from Manila on Sunday as ash from the phreatic eruption of the Taal Volcano was dumped over the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA.)

This situation had definitely prompted airport authorities to cancel flights or redirect them to Clark International Airport in Pampanga. And like a scene from an apocalyptic movie, Taal Volcano could be seen with lightning pulsing through a giant plume of ash.

Shortly after the suspension of all flights, an inspection of the NAIA runways was conducted on Monday morning for the partial resumption of operations. Secretary Tugade gave guidance to MIAA and CAAP to consult airline operators, so they can come up with a workable and systematic schedule of recovery flights.

In the Road Sector, attached agencies and transport hubs under the DoTr also lent help to the affected residents. To mention, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) assisted the safe evacuation of families by providing transportation. They also performed tasks that helped the evacuation to go smoothly, including the management of traffic in the affected roads.

Further, law enforcers from the LTO Central Office distributed bread, biscuits and water to the affected residents while they were being evacuated from their houses to temporary shelters.

We also had the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board performing close coordination with local governments for the positioning of buses in the event of an emergency.

For passengers stranded going to and from the south of Metro Manila, the Paranaque Integrated Terminal Exchange stood true to its being the “friendly land terminal” by waiving overnight parking fee and offering free water and WiFi access to those affected.

In the Maritime sector, the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) also secured vital measures to protect lives at sea.

The PPA and MARINA were ready at all times to render assistance to the riding public, which includes the preparation of a list of sailing schedules should the affected residents would like to be evacuated by sea.

On the other hand, we have our uniformed arm, the PCG, to render assistance to the affected residents by bringing them to evacuation centers. Maritime assets were deployed in key areas along with medical support and K-9 teams.

For the Railway sector, normal operations were maintained in place as there was no immediate threat to the rail networks.

However, for some trains, like that of the LRT, the air-conditioning system had to be shut off to prevent damage to trains. Windows on the LRT trains were also closed to prevent exposing passengers to the ashfall.

Since Day One, we have been implementing measures to help the public, especially those most affected by this dangerous and challenging disaster. But we are not done yet. We will continue to monitor, assist and extend aid until the situation is made better.

The bayanihan efforts we are carrying out is a reminder that the DoTr and all its attached agencies are always ready to help.

We encourage everyone to take all necessary precaution, cooperation and to keep a state of high alertness and readiness until we have recovered from this calamity.

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