I was about to submit my article, which is a sequel of the previous one about the face-off of the United States and Iran, when news broke out about the phreatic explosion of Taal Volcano. I decided to put it on hold and instead express my personal thoughts about the biggest developing story, which will hog media headlines in the coming days. The disaster was so massive that the province of Batangas extending for kilometers was literally and figuratively enveloped with ash fall. The pictures and videos posted on social media of a spewing lava fountain-like fireworks with sporadic lightning and mild earthquakes are too graphic to indicate devastation. As of this writing casualties and related damages have not yet been accounted. National and local governments posthaste operationalized their respective disaster reduction system to address the emergency.
Back when I was just a promdi in the metropolis, I would go with friends visiting Tagaytay and Batangas. They will point to me an islet, which they identified as Taal Volcano. Atop Tagaytay, one can hardly make out an islet. Up until then, I never saw it as a source of interest, except as the regular source of my favorite dish of tawilis.
Taal Volcano is far from one’s picture of a volcano with majestic towering heights like Mayon Volcano. In fact, it is described as the “lowest volcano in the planet.” But I was not surprised. I come from Lanao del Sur, with its wide, expansive, ancient Lake Lanao, the second largest lake in the Philippines. The lake is of volcanic origin and, like Taal Lake, one can hardly see any volcanic mountain except perhaps what lawyer Dalidig Sumndad identified as Mount Piayaganan, which we fondly call “Sleeping Lady,” because its contour and formation resembles that of a lady who is lying on her back with her cascading hair.
Years back, when I was bitten by the love for windsurfing as a sport, we would spend weekends regularly at the man-made Caliraya Lake in Laguna. But we often hied off to Taal Lake for a few hours to windsurf and test its tranquil waters. Most of the days, it has serene and smooth waves, which are perfect for what we call leisure windsurfing. Average and newbie windsurfers could just effortlessly glide through the wind and listen to the melodious rushing breeze and the flaps of the sail. It gives indescribable pleasure to windsurfers. But its moderate wind and waves could not provide challenge to advanced windsurfers seeking more skills and excitement.
Earth phenomenon like the Taal eruption makes one wonder how far man has gone exploring earth science. Even with the advances reported, there are still areas and occurrences that cannot be explained with precision. Volcanology is not an exact science. There remain facets of the discipline still to be explored. Until now, there is no accurate prediction of the date and time of eruption of a volcano or earthquake. What are the signs that precede the disaster? Are there scientific indicators that can point with certitude when the disaster will happen? What is its scope and magnitude? How long will the explosion last? Will it be like the explosion in 1754 when it lasted for six months?
In an earlier article, I wrote: “As early as when the Neanderthal man lived in a cave, man has found the need to detect signs for rains, destructive wind and other atmospheric disturbances. His only instrument was keen visual observation. We are told that just by looking at the stars at night they could tell whether the following days will be sunny or cloudy. And by the noise created by animals and fowls they could tell impending eruption of volcanoes and other erratic climates. They needed this information in their search for food and safety.”
Today, climatologist and volcanologists had never had it so good with cutting-edge technology, the use of computers and other modern gadgets as aids in their work.
Earth disturbances are “dependent on a number of variables which are not always constant, a situation oftentimes explained as ‘acts of God’ beyond the capacity of science to explain but which religion claims as a manifestation of the power of the Supreme Creator.”
Indeed, nature is sometimes inscrutable.