Officials of the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) and National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) have denied they were caught off guard by the eruption of Taal Volcano on Sunday, 12 January.
In a virtual presser hosted by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) on Wednesday, DoST Undersecretary and Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) Director Renato Solidum Jr. said that Batangas province and many other agencies have been coordinating with them in preparation for the eruption.
“In fact so that our listeners will understand, in November, the Department of Education Batangas province stopped operations of all schools in the island and required all students to have classes in the mainland because of the threat of the eruption and the numerous earthquakes that was felt in the island,” Solidum said.
NDRRMC spokesperson Mark Timbal said the contingency plans for this emergency was already developed by their regional disaster council even before the eruption took place
“With regards to the actual preparations, way before the actual activity of Taal, the NDRRMC, through Philvolcs…especially through the Philvolcs leadership, we have been able to educate the people in those areas on the possible dangers posed or provided by Taal,” Timbal said.
“So proper education and preparation of the residents have been done and established so this sort of observation that the government has been caught off guard by this emergency is just I guess an imagination of our people, ” he added.
Timbal said that all the actions that they have been saying now are parts of that contingency plan.
“So everything that is happening now is going according to the plan that we have developed,” he said.
Earlier, Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga lamented the lack of alerts from Phivolcs — saying its latest bulletin on Taal’s volcanic activity was shared over a month ago.
The Cavite lawmakers called for a probe into the government’s disaster response efforts amid Taal’s eruptions under House Resolution 643 he filed last Monday, 13 January. The resolution aims to determine Phivolc’s timeliness in disseminating information and warning.
Malacañang on Thursday said President Rodrigo Duterte is quite satisfied with the performance of Phivolcs, particularly Solidum, in disseminating information to the public with regards to Taal volcano.
In a press briefing, Chief presidential Legal Counsel and spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that as far as the Palace is concerned, Phivolcs also didn’t commit any lapses in handling, predicting or advising the public about the eruption or volcanic activity of Taal.
“Magaling nga itong si Director Solidum eh, mahusay magpaliwanag eh. Alam ninyo, iba iyong—kasi ang iba nagko-compare, ‘Bakit iyong typhoon napi-predict natin?’ Actually hindi naman natin napi-predict ang typhoon, nakikita natin eh brewing. On the basis of that, nakukuha nila kung saan papunta, gaano kabilis, kalakas. Pero iyong pagputok o iyong pag-earthquake, hindi mo mapi-predict iyon,” Panelo told reporters.
When asked for Malacañang’s comment about the call of Barzaga for a probe, Panelo defended Phivolcs but also stated that it is the privilege of Congress to investigate.
“But anyway, that’s the prerogative and privilege of the Legislature, to call for a hearing in aid of legislation. ‘Di hayaan mo sila,” Panelo said adding that Malacañang has no business interfering.
Barzaga’s colleague, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, said he is opposed to a congressional inquiry into Phivolcs’ supposed failure to issue warnings prior to the eruption of Taal Volcano.
Instead of a congressional inquiry, Salceda said the House of Representatives should prioritize mobilizing the necessary materials and policy assistance for districts affected by Taal Volcano’s ongoing volcanic activity.
“In times like these, we should unite. Help first, comment later.”
“I think the basic duty of Congress is not to investigate,” Salceda said at the Usaping Balita Media Forum in Quezon City on Thursday.
Salceda pointed out that a probe might undermine the authority of agencies, affect their work and impede the delivery of services.
“We cannot undermine the confidence of the public with the authority. A public that does not have confidence in authority is already a disaster,” he said.
Aside from mobilizing policy assistance, Salceda urged Congress to propose supplemental appropriations for the areas affected by the Taal Volcano eruption.
“We need to immediately augment the funds and the best wasy to augment it is through a supplemental budget.”
The rehabilitation plan for Batangas and other affected areas should also be prioritized, according to Salceda.
Salceda added the plan should go beyond restoring the affected areas to its former state and should include development of the areas given its proximity to Metro Manila.
The plan should also include creation of a reconstruction commission which shall be primary agency that will implement the rehabilitation plan whcih could cost possibly P60 to P100 billion, he said.
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has instructed House Committee on Disaster Management Chairperson Congresswoman Lucy Torres-Gomez to coordinate with committees on agriculture, tourism, and trade and industry and start developing comprehensive rehabilitation plan for affected communities.
Torres-Gomez told Daily Tribune she has already called for a meeting for initial discussions on the rehabilitation plan.
She said the House is now taking inventory of the damages caused by the eruption and tracking families displaced.
“At this point, the first thing we need to get a handle of is the extent of disruption of lives and physical damages of the area.”
“Since this is an on-going natural disaster, it is difficult to determine the full extent,” she told Daily Tribune.
“We need to phase out any rehabilitation plan beginning with damage and social needs assessments. Since we don’t know how long the eruption will last, we can only make possible scenarios for worst case, in the event the eruption will be long drawn,” Torres-Gomez said. (With Keith Calayag)