January 17, 2020 at 12:30 am
Jonathan Dela Cruz
"It is time we enhanced our ongoing relief and assistance operations."
Taal Volcano and Lake are again in the news 43 years after the volcano’s last eruption in 1977 with that massive explosion three days ago, Jan. 12. One of the most attractive tourist sites in the Philippines, Taal is considered an active, complex volcano with a crater lake partially covering the Taal Caldera itself. Scientific journals including Wikipedia consider that crater/ lake as the largest lake on an island in a lake on an island in the world—a wondrous phenomenon created out of the more than 34 eruptions which have occurred on Volcano island, an island in the middle of the lake.
The same journals have also pointed out that the crater lake contains Vulcan Point, "a small rocky island that projects from the surface of the crater lake which was the remnant of the old crater floor that is now surrounded by the two-kilometer wide lake now referred to as the Main Crater lake." Again, that natural outcrop (Vulcan Point) is often cited as "the largest third order island (island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island" in the whole world.
It is no wonder then that these two wondrous phenomena of the entire Taal Volcano and lake complex have attracted not just tourists but scientists as well as it was included in the list of 16 volcanoes (commonly known as the Decade Volcanoes) identified by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the World's Interior as "being worthy of particular study in light of their history of large, destructive eruptions and proximity to populated areas."
The Decade Volcanoes project was initiated in 1990 as part of the UN sponsored International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction and is a continuing undertaking supported not only by the UN and the governments where the volcanoes are located but more importantly by the scientific community which is why this latest eruption has attracted such a huge audience of experts this time involving other disciplines such as risk reduction, disaster management, lifeline and livelihood, environmental and even resettlement, among others.
Why am I relating all this information at this point? Simple. Because there has been a trove of misinformation, half-baked data and out-and-out fake news streaming in both traditional and social media adding to the tension and burden which have accompanied the movement of people, vehicles and other resources immediately after that massive explosion three days ago.
One such is the somewhat politically angled thrust that the administration was caught flat-footed by this sudden development. Some people were even re-posting the old and tired "Nasan Ang Pangulo" tirade which was of course a dud as the President had been off and issuing out directives even before his place could land in Manila after the airport partially opened last Jan. 13.
More cynically, these guys could not help but vent their contrived anger on Phivolcs for "sleeping on the job." They maintained without verifying that the agency was taken aback by the sudden eruption. That was farthest from the truth. To the credit of the hardworking agency professionals, since March this year Phivolcs has been raising concern over the tremors and movements registered by its monitors in and around Taal Volcano which it duly advised to the local government units and the communities surrounding the island. In a word, Phivolcs and the DOST had they eye on the ball.
Besides, these agencies have always been saying that Taal remained one of the most active volcanoes in the world and the second most active in the Philippines. This means it can explode anytime. Even historians and longtime residents of the areas around the volcano have time and again reminded people about the devastation which have visited those places since that first recorded eruption in 1572.
But like all volcano monitors, there is really no way you can accurately predict when the "Big One" happens. Nonetheless, they were on alert with eyes open, not sleeping as some others are insisting. In this case, the agency's alert system was on full throttle from the evening of January 10 up to a few minutes before the explosion itself which is why it was in a position to to raise the alert status in Volcano island and other areas within 14 kilometers from the volcano to Alert Level 4—the highest such alert issuance under existing guidelines—in a matter of minutes.
Without those up-to-the-minute issuances, government would not have been able to react decisively and ordered the forced evacuation of residents in the towns of Balete, San Nicolas, Talisay, Laurel and Agoncillo in Batangas and advised those staying as far away as Tagaytay City to take all precautionary measures thus ensuring the safety of thousands of residents and out of harms way. Thank God there have been no known casualties thus far except a number of animals which could not be accommodated in the mass movement of people and machines.
On the ground, the mobilization was in full throttle: local governments were in place, evacuation centers were secured, streets were cleaned up, repairs of roads and bridges were underway, relief goods were made available and movements of people and vehicles facilitated. As of this writing, as more relief goods and teams come in from all sectors, in and out of the country, proper coordination between and among government, donors and recipients appears to be holding firm and steady. Compare this with the past administration's responses during Typhoons Yolanda and Sendong or right after the Mamasapano massacre—and weep. Of course, there is the usual "wrath of God" indictment from the usual suspects claiming that due to the "misbehaving and uncouth" President's actions, the heavens are now falling on us, the hapless people. That remark definitely is uncalled for.
In any event, now that we are on a Taal Volcano watch, an undertaking which may take weeks or even months, it is time we enhanced our ongoing relief and assistance operations to include scouting for possible resettlement plans for the 10,000 and counting families displaced by the explosion. I am sure most, if not all of them, are itching to get out of the evacuation centers, no matter how livable these may be, and get on with their normal, productive lives. These are hardworking, family-oriented people who would rather be on their own rather than rely on government or the tender mercies of others. We are, of course, hoping that the expected (as it will surely come) eruption is over and done with soonest so that we can start the process of rehabilitation and rebuilding in the affected areas.