Police officers guard a road nearby the errupting Taal Volcano in Talisay. — REUTERS
PHILIPPINE authorities allowed residents near Taal Volcano, whose eruption since Sunday forced thousands of people to evacuate, to return home to save their livestock and belongings.
Batangas Police Director Colonel Edwin Quilates said people in 16 towns that lie within the 14-kilometer danger zone were given two hours to save whatever they can.
Residents, whose names were recorded at security checkpoints, would be escorted out of the zone if they stay beyond the limit, Mr. Quilates said.
He said he had ordered police to observe maximum tolerance because the people have suffered enough.
“I advised our policemen to keep calm because we know how stressful the situation is in affected areas,” Mr. Quilates said.
Thousands of residents near the volcano were forced to leave their homes on Sunday after the volcano spewed a thick column of ash 14 kilometers into the sky. The ash fall reached as far as cities near the capital, forcing the nation’s financial markets to suspend trading and the Manila airport to close on Monday.
The Philippines lies in the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a belt of volcanoes around the Pacific Ocean where most of the world’s earthquakes strike.
Taal Volcano continued to spew short-lived dark gray ash plumes, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said in its 8 a.m. report on Thursday. Alert level 4 remained in place, which means forced evacuation within the 14-km danger zone.
The agency has recorded 566 volcanic earthquakes in the Taal region since January 12, 172 of which were felt with intensities ranging from 1 to 5, it said.
These earthquakes signified “continuous magmatic intrusion beneath the Taal edifice” that could lead to further eruptions, it said.
The Interior and Local Government department on Wednesday ordered the evacuation of residents in the towns of Agoncillo, Alitagtag, Balete, Cuenca, Laurel, Lemery, Malvar, Mataas na Kahoy, San Nicolas, Sta. Teresita, Taal and Talisay and the cities of Lipa and Tanauan.
Looting had not been reported since Taal Volcano erupted on Sunday, he said.
Policemen have rescued almost a hundred horses trapped on Taal Volcano Island in the past two days, police Directorate for Community Relations chief Major General Benigno Durana Jr. said.
Their owners had attempted to rescue them but were earlier blocked by policemen from entering the island, which President Rodrigo R. Duterte has declared a ‘no man’s land.”
Mr. Quilates said at least 400 cops in Batangas province were directly affected by the calamity. To ease their burden, Batangas police have opened their provincial office in Batangas City as an evacuation center for the families of affected police officers.
Mr. Quilates said 90% of the more than 2,000 policemen assigned in Batangas province live there.
CALAMITY FUNDMeanwhile, lawmakers in both Houses of Congress may pass a supplemental budget to increase calamity funds for victims of Taal Volcano.
Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian told reporters the government only has P27 billion in calamity funds, not enough for the estimated P35 billion in damages caused by Taal’s eruption.
The supplemental budget should be at least P10 billion, the senator said, adding that the P35 billion calamity fund is only or infrastructure.
Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said he would support the move, noting that he was the principal author of the Calamity Fund law.
The House of Representatives is looking at a similar measure for the rehabilitation of areas affected by the eruptions, Albay Rep. Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda said at a separate briefing.
He said at least P12 billion was needed for rehabilitation, while as much as P100 billion is needed to “build better forward” in Batangas province.
The congressman also said lawmakers should prioritize helping those affected by the calamity over congressional investigations.
“The House must dedicate its time and resources to efforts that meaningfully improve the situation of Filipinos,” he said in an aide memoir to the House Speaker. “It can devote some time to congressional investigations when the situational urgency has receded. We must help first and investigate later.”
Cavite Rep. Elpidio F. Barzaga, Jr. has filed a resolution asking the House of Representatives to investigate if the Phivolcs had given enough warning to residents.
Mr. Gatchalian said Phivolcs had not failed in its mandate to warn the public of volcanic activities, saying there is no technology to predict a volcanic eruption. — Charmaine A. Tadalan, Genshen L. Espedido and Emmanuel Tupas, Philippine Star