TAGAYTAY CITY — The scar left behind by the Taal eruption on the tourism industry of this upland city is nothing compared to the devastation wrought on the Batangas lowlands by one of the world’s smallest but deadliest volcanoes.
This, according to a businessman here, is the assessment of his peers, who saw for themselves, how in an instant, everything that Tagaytay and Batangas have built over the years can be gone with the rumblings of what he called the ’small but terrible’ Taal.
Uncertainty on whether the worst is yet to come has kept businesses here from opening, kept closed as they are by the absence of power and the usual hordes of tourists, both local and foreign.
As a result, this city by the ridge overlooking the iconic volcano and its lake within a lake, looks like a ghost town devoid of the hustle and bustle which characterized the area since the boom that started at the turn of the century.
Malls have yet to open, fantasy rides along an adventure park remained closed while the usual traffic on the main Aguinaldo highway is nowhere to be seen. What are left are curious onlookers filling viewing decks to get a glimpse of the volcano and its tantrums.
Meralco linemen, meanwhile, are kept busy spraying off ash from electric posts, making sure nothing gets in the way before they switch the power back on after turning them off Sunday at the height of Taal’s ashfall-laden eruption.
“Tagaytay will recover in due time. Business will bounce back,” says a trader who refused to be named. “It may look like a ghost town now but definitely it will be back.”
What concerns the businessman more than the tourism industry in the city is the suffering of the people in several Batangas towns most heavily devastated by the eruption.
“Mahihirapan silang maka recover (They will have a hard time recovering). First off, we don’t know how long Taal will keep on erupting. Iba tong bulkan na’to. May iba’t ibang phase yan. (This volcano is different. It has different phases). It can even take months or years,” he said.
Authorities are preparing for two extreme worst-case scenarios: One, where the eruption could take place over a few days and another where the eruption lasts for weeks.
In 1911, Taal erupted over a period of three days in January. In 1754, it was drawn out over a period of seven months.
Livelihood on hold
“Meantime, livelihood of these people, which are mostly agriculture and tourist-related, will be put on hold. For how long, we don’t know. Add to that plans to extend the permanent danger zone to 14 kilometers. That will surely cover the outlying towns of Agoncillo, Lemery, Taal and Tanauan, among others,” the trader explained.
The man may not have said it, but it has been that way since time immemorial. People from outlying towns evacuate every time Taal is on a a tantrum, return and pray that the next one would still be far off.
A study by an environment non-government organization, Pusod, Inc., found as early as 2011 that the observation still stands to this day.
What’s obvious is that barangays at the foot of the volcano are greeted almost all the time by volcanic serenity — and suddenly by unannounced eruptions, like on 33 previous occasions in the volcano’s history. Still, in disaster-prone Philippines, integrated disaster-response measures are not automatic, albeit are almost absent, to people living beside a permanent danger zone, like a volcano’s periphery.
The damage and losses due to the Taal volcano eruption remain at P577.39M, as reported area of 2,772 hectares and 1,967 animal head undergo further validation by the Department of Agriculture (DA) Region IV-A office.
In an effort to assuage the feelings of the evacuees, mostly from the outlying towns of Batangas, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, along with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, paid a visit Thursday to the Department of Health Treatment and Rehabilitation Center at Barangay Kaybagal south here.
The senator said the President is very concerned about the safety and well-being of those affected thus he directed various government agencies to see to it that they contribute in uplifting the situation of the affected families.
The support coming from the national government according to Go will be directly coursed through the respective local government units.
“We brought food, medicine and other necessities to the victims and the LGU will be tapped in the distribution of these since they know their respective territories,” Go said.
The President, Go said, has directed the DPWH, DENR, DoH and the Department of Agriculture to do their share in helping the affected areas.
The DPWH was ordered to clear all roads of ash and repair damaged roads and other establishments.
The DA was tasked to help farmers recuperate from their damaged crops, the DENR for the environmental concern and DoH for the health condition of the affected residents.
Meanwhile, Go warned traders who are taking advantage of the situation to refrain from hiking prices of their goods.
“To the traders, please don’t take advantage of the situation. Let’s help our fellowmen, don’t raise prices of your goods,” said Go as he issued a stern warning that those who would be caught violating the law will be dealt with accordingly.
According to Phivolcs, Alert Level 4 remains in effect over Taal Volcano as new fissures and cracks were seen in some areas of Batangas.
with Maria Romero and Alvin Murcia