The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is considering to forcefully drag residents out of Taal Volcano’s danger zone — the 14-kilometer high-risk areas — if only to ensure their safety.
This as the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) declared it is not taking any chances at lowering the current Alert Level 4, stressing that it is still unsafe to get close to the sites at risk.
Phivolcs Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division head, Mariton Bornas said the agency is facing a “dilemma” on how to assess the magma deposits that has already surfaced and had caused giant fissures.
Fissures or large cracks have been visible in several municipalities in Batangas since last week. Phivolcs said these are indicators that magma is flowing underneath the surface.
In addition, Bornas noted that Taal Volcano is still emitting plumes, although there have been registries of “significantly weaker” volcanic earthquakes the past few days.
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions have also declined, down to 153 tons listed yesterday compared to Tuesday’s 344 tons.
“Just because SO2 went down, it doesn’t mean that we’re already safe,” Bornas said in a press briefing.
“It’s possible that the vents where SO2 could be released from are just blocked. So, there are many possible factors. We need to see a continuous trend that the emission level is going down,” she added.
In this light, DILG-Region IV-A officer-in-charge Elias Fernandez said authorities are mulling over the possibility of dragging residents out of the danger zone to ensure that no residents remain at the high-risk areas.
“We’ll tell the police and the law enforcement agencies to (do that), if possible. If that is what is needed to spare their lives, we’ll drag them out of those areas,” Fernandez said.
The idea was brought up after aerial inspection of the Taal-affected areas on Tuesday showed many residents still staying at the coastal towns around the volcano.
Fernandez warned that the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) could confiscate the boats being used by the residents in going to the high-risk areas.
But for now, the DILG official said they would continue persuading the residents to stop returning to their homes.
“We will use the police and the military and other law enforcement agencies to continue asking those who are left there to leave the danger zones,” Fernandez stated.
“If maximum persuasion is not effective, we will be forced to do other actions. If possible, (we will) physically pull them out of the areas. Just to save their lives,” he added.
Citing observations after the aerial inspection, Bornas said that there are new features on the main crater, including a new cone formed by the lava fountaining events.
Bornas said it is possible for the alert level to be lowered if there will be a continuing “downtrend of monitoring parameters,” meaning the “probabilities of an eruption are already low.”
She, however, said that it is unlikely that all residents within the 14-kilomenter danger zone will be allowed to return in the event of a lower alert level.
“We will not recommend that,” she stressed, explaining that a downgraded Alert Level 3 still poses a hazardous eruption that could happen “within days to weeks.”
Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas said that around one million residents have been affected by the eruption of Taal Volcano last 12 January.
Mandanas said that more or less 200,000 individuals are being temporarily sheltered in evacuation centers in Batangas, Cavite, Laguna and Quezon.
The remaining 800,000, meanwhile, are said to be staying with their relatives in non-affected areas in Batangas, neighboring provinces and also in Metro Manila.
Among those ordered as no access sites and are being tightly guarded by authorities were Talisay, Laurel, San Nicolas, Balete, Agoncillo, and some areas in Lemery, Taal, Sta. Teresita, Mataas na Kahoy, Lipa City and Tanauan City.
Honeylet checks on evacuees
President Rodrigo Duterte’s partner Honeylet Avanceña yesterday checked on the situation of evacuees at the Batangas Provincial Sports Complex in Batangas City.
She joined in the relief operation organized by Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCII) and Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP).
Avanceña and members of the FFCCCII, headed by president Henry Bon Liong of Sterling Paper and Michael Tan of the Lucio Tan Group of Companies, distributed 10,000 relief packs, 10,000 kilos of rice and 10,000 tikoy as their gifts for the upcoming Chinese New Year.
During her interaction with the evacuees, Avanceña particularly expressed her concerns for the safety of women, especially young girls, inside the evacuation centers.
“If only I can talk to all of you,” said Avanceña, who was emotional during her speech.
Evacuate the evacuees
Meanwhile, an official from the Department of Education (DepEd) in Batangas has appealed to the government to relocate displaced families from the schools to resume classes.
Merthel Evardome, School Division Superintendent of Batangas Province told the House of Representatives, constituted as a committee of the whole on Wednesday that a total of 219 schools in Batangas province have already been turned into evacuation centers.
“No amount of calamity should stop our children from studying,” Evardome said.
“We are asking help from our local government executives for available space to transfer and attend to our evacuees. We are ready to coordinate with you,” she added.
According to the official a total of 2,558 class rooms are now being occupied by evacuees since Taal Volcano erupted last 12 January.
Only the schools in Lobo and Tingloy are not occupied by evacuees. In Bauan almost all schools are occupied to date, she said.
This already disrupted the education of some 50,000 students in affected communities.
In appealing for the relocation of evacuees, Evardome cited Republic Act 10821 or the Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act of 2015 mandating local government units to identify locations for evacuation centers.
Under the law, the first spaces that should be turned into evacuation centers are sports complex, gymnasiums, aside from others. Schools are last among the options.
Despite disrupted operation of schools, Evardome said DepEd is doing its best to continue educating students.
With Jomelle Garner, Keith Calayag