BATANGAS, Jan 27, 2020, PhilStar. Evacuees, some of whom had waited as early as the crack of dawn for an end to the lockdown, rushed back to their homes yesterday after the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) lowered the alert level of Taal Volcano from 4 to 3 in 10 towns and two cities, The Philippine Star reported.
While the lockdown was lifted as the possibility of a hazardous eruption had declined, authorities stressed that Taal’s “unrest has not ceased.”
Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas allowed residents of most of the towns to return to their homes.
“Residents of all towns under lockdown except Agoncillo and Laurel now have the option to return to their respective residences or places of work,” Mandanas said in a televised news briefing in Batangas.
The lockdown was lifted in Alitagtag, Balete, Cuenca, Lemery, Lipa City, Malvar, Mataasnakahoy, San Nicolas, Sta. Teresita, Taal, Talisay and Tanauan City.
Taal Volcano island remains on permanent lockdown after a seven-kilometer-radius danger zone was declared, im, from the previous 14-km radius.
Mandanas however clarified that he is just following the directive of the Phivolcs when opening the lockdown areas. He leaves the final decision on the implementation to local government officials.
He said that the mayors have the prerogative to allow their constituents to go inside their barangays based on their area assessment.
In Lemery, hundreds of residents onboard vehicles rushed to the town after local police allowed them entry past 9 a.m.
One of them, Annabel Enriquez, said they had been waiting at the checkpoint since 4 a.m.
“We will clean our home,” she said.
Agoncillo Mayor Daniel Reyes, whose town is still on lockdown, said he will abide by the governor’s directive.
Talisay Mayor Gerry Natanauan expressed his delight on the lifting of the lockdown order, saying in Filipino, “I am happy because our citizens can now go home to clean up and feed their animals.”
Tanauan Mayor Angeline Halili said, “We can breathe easy now, because I know our citizens will be happy to be able to go back home. I have requested that electricity and water be returned to areas formerly included in the lockdown.”
Halili, however, said they are still monitoring the situation of one of their barangays, Maria Paz, within the seven-kilometer danger zone.
News of the lowered alert level came from a press conference held at the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council operation center in Batangas City, where Phivolcs resident volcanologist Paolo Reniva read the two-page Department of Science and Technology-Phivolcs notice, to the delight of mayors and other officials in the meeting.
“Taal Volcano’s condition in the two weeks following the January 12, 2020 phreatomagmatic eruption has generally declined into less frequent volcanic earthquake activity, decelerated ground deformation of the Taal Caldera and Taal Volcano Island edifices and weak steam/gas emissions at the main crater,” the notice said.
“Alert Level 3 means that there is a decreased tendency towards hazardous explosive eruption but should not be interpreted that unrest has ceased or that the threat of a hazardous eruption has disappeared,” the agency added.
If an uptrend or pronounced changes in monitored parameters forewarn a potential hazardous explosive eruption, Phivolcs said the alert might be raised back to level 4.
Phivolcs said people who would return to areas at high risk to “base surges” – a fast, ground hugging blast of gas and ash down a volcano’s slope – must be prepared for a quick and organized evacuation at such time.
“Conversely, should there be a persistent downtrend in monitored parameters after a sufficient observation period, the alert will be further lowered to level 2,” it said.
Phivolcs said earthquakes recorded by the Philippine Seismic Network across the Taal region declined from 959 to 27 between Jan. 12 and 24.
Sulfur dioxide, or SO2 emissions, dropped from a high of 5,300 tons on Jan. 13 to a low of 140 tons on Jan. 22. SO2 is a major gas component of magma.
The agency continued to remind the public that at Alert Level 3, sudden steam-driven and even weak phreatomagmatic explosions, volcanic earthquakes, ashfall and lethal volcanic gas expulsions could still occur and threaten areas within volcano island and nearby lakeshores.
Phivolcs also continued to prohibit entry into the volcano island permanent danger zone, as well as areas over Taal Lake and communities west of the volcano within a seven-kilometer radius from the main crater.
It also advised local government units to assess areas outside the seven-kilometer radius for damage and road accessibility, and to strengthen preparedness, contingency and communication measures in case of renewed unrest.
Residents were advised to observe precaution due to ground displacement across fissures or cracks on the ground, frequent ashfall and minor earthquakes.
Communities beside river channels, particularly where ash from the main eruption phase had been thickly deposited, should likewise increase vigilance when there is heavy and prolonged rainfall since the ash can be washed away and form lahar (mudflow) along the channels, the agency said.
Civil aviation authorities should advise pilots to avoid flying close to the volcano as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from sudden explosions and wind-remobilized ash may pose hazards, Phivolcs said.
Despite the downgrading of the alert level, Malacañang said the government would not lower its guard and would continue to prepare for a possible hazardous volcanic eruption.
“The government will not be lying low. We will remain on our toes when it comes to the risks for the sake of our countrymen. We are always ready. Our position has been to discourage people from returning to their homes and their workplaces because the risk is still there,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a radio interview yesterday.
Focus on rehabilitation
With the lowering of alert level, the military and police now shift their focus to the rehabilitation process.
Brig. Gen. Marceliano Teofilo, chief of staff of the army’s 2nd Infantry Division and commander 203rd brigade, created “Task Force Taal” which would lead local government agencies in the rehabilitation of Laurel and Agoncillo towns.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said it’s about time the national government step up its efforts in helping victims of both natural and manmade disasters, and focus more on long-term rehabilitation, rather than pour its entire resources on the standard response and relief efforts, citing the need to pass at the soonest time possible the bill creating the Department of Disaster Resilience.
Meanwhile, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has filed charges against 18 retail establishments for the unfair and unconscionable selling of overpriced N95 face masks, surgical masks and other similar products.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said each of the erring establishments faces an administrative penalty of up to P300,000.
Should consumers find retailers selling overpriced face masks, DTI said they could call the Consumer Care hotline at 1-DTI (1-384) or send an email to email@example.com.
Animal rescue ongoing
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) yesterday asked Gov. Mandanas to launch a rescue operation for animals trapped in Taal Island.
In a letter dated yesterday, PETA senior vice president of international campaigns Jason Baker sent a letter to Mandanas stating that while the alert level on Taal Island has been lowered to 3, they should still send help to the animals that remain on the island.
He also offered PETA’s willingness to assist in the logistics in the rescue operation, since they have widespread and firsthand knowledge about the area and the location of horses.
Gratitude to UAE
The Philippines conveyed its gratitude to the United Arab Emirates for their assistance with the victims of the Taal eruption and continued support of the country.
Philippine Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates Hjayceelyn Quintana recently met with secretary-general of the Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) Dr. Muhammad Atiq Al-Falahi and officials at the Emirates Red Crescent Headquarters in Abu Dhabi.
During the meeting, Quintana and Al-Falahi discussed ways by which ERC can become an important conduit for UAE residents, including Filipinos, to send donations and assistance to the Philippines in times of natural disasters.
With Arnell Ozaeta, Helen Flores, Alexis Romero, Ed Amoroso, Louella Desiderio, Pia Lee-Brago, Evelyn Macairan, Delon Porcalla