What’s happening in Taal Volcano took Filipinos by surprise. What started as a typical, relaxed, quiet Sunday became a day of emergency at worst and worry at best, with the alert level for Taal being raised from Level 2 (where it had been since 2018) to Level 4 in the span of just a day.
An explosive eruption remains imminent, marked with continuous magmatic and hydrovolcanic activity. Lava fountains generated 800-meter tall dark gray steam-laden plumes, reported the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. New fissures or cracks were observed in numerous places, and volcanic quakes continue to be felt.
“The intense seismic activity coupled with fissuring on the caldera region likely signifies continuous magma intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity,” Phivolcs announced.
Amid the actual and impending danger and displacement, it is astounding that the tragedy appears to bring out the bad side of some Filipinos.
Masks—surgical or the special N95 kind—quickly ran out of stock. There were anecdotal reports of individuals buying too many masks for their families, indifferent to the fact that others are equally, or more, in need of such protection. Others report buying them at much higher prices.
Truth and accuracy also became a casualty at a time when people should be turning to facts for solace. Some people take the time and trouble to make memes and compose posts that needlessly occasion fear. For example, in a bid to highlight that many volcanoes are becoming active at the same time, they say Mayon Volcano is on Alert Level 2 and Mt. Bulusan is on Alert Level 1. Both are true, but this has been the case since March 2018 and May 2019, respectively.
There was a post that urged people to turn off their mobile phones during specific hours because of supposed radiation. Another warned of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in 15 cities that would occur today, January 15. Some claimed the foundation of a popular mall had become inundated with water from Manila Bay and might collapse.
What is astounding is that people forward or share these posts, perhaps with the intention of being helpful to others, but instead causing confusion and disinformation.
These are precarious times and citizens and the government alike should focus on minimizing the damage from this natural disaster. We don’t even know how long the ordeal will last. The last thing we need is unnecessary noise made by those who should know better, but choose not to.