Forced evacuation ordered at 14-km Taal danger zone

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    THE chief of police in the Calabarzon region has ordered the forced evacuation of Batangas residents who remain inside the 14-kilometer permanent danger zone at Taal Volcano.

    The Calabarzon PNP is also setting up checkpoints to prevent the re-entry of evacuees to the danger zone.

    Taal Volcano remains under alert level 4, which means a hazardous explosion is possible within hours or days. The next and highest alert is level 5 which means a hazardous eruption is underway.

    As of yesterday, there were total some 39,995 families or some 146,300 persons staying in 471 evacuation centers, according to the Batangas Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.

    On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said about two percent of the residents in the danger zone are still inside the area.

    Calabarzon police chief Brig. Gen. Vicente Danao ordered police personnel on Tuesday night to bring the residents out of the danger zone by force if they continue to defy appeals for them to leave the area.

    Regional police spokeswoman Lt. Col. Chitadel Gaoiran said Danao ordered policemen “to implement forced evacuation and total lockdown under the 14-km danger zone” on the recommendation of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

    “We are in the most crucial times, so that I am ordering the immediate evacuation of all residents under said 14-kilometer radius, including the relocation of our security forces,” said Danao.

    Phivolcs said it has noted a further drop in Taal’s sulfur dioxide emission.

    In a bulletin, Phivolcs said the sulfur dioxide emission for the past 24 hours was pegged at 153 tons compared to 344 tons the previous day and 4,353 tons the day before that.

    But it does not mean there is no longer any danger. It is possible there was a drop in emission only because vents were blocked, preventing the toxic gas from coming out, said Mariton Bornas, chief of Phivolcs’ Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division.

    Bornas also said volcanic earthquakes recorded are already “significantly weaker” compared to the past days but this does not mean there is no longer danger. She said magma is still rising.

    Phivolcs said the Philippine Seismic Network recorded six volcanic quakes from 5 a.m. Tuesday to 5 a.m. Wednesday, one higher than the previous day.

    FUNDS, AID

    Public Works Secretary Mark Villar yesterday said his agency is looking at seeking more funds for the construction of additional evacuation centers this year.

    Villar, in a briefing in Malacañang, said the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has already constructed 114 evacuation centers nationwide, some now being used

    in Tanoan, Sta. Rosa, and San Pascual all in Batangas.
    Batangas, along with Cavite and Tagaytay City are under a state of calamity following intensified Taal activities since January 12.

    Villar said under the 2020 budget, funds are already provided for the construction of at least two evacuation centers in each province or about 200 evacuation centers this year, but amid the President’s order, the agency is hoping to build more.

    Villar said he expects part of the funding for the evacuation centers will be included in a supplemental budget to be approved by Congress.

    The President, during his visit to the victims of the Taal explosion last Monday, said Congress may come up with a P30-billion supplemental budget for the assistance and rehabilitation of affected communities.

    The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) said it is extending certain privileges to members affected by the Taal’s rumblings.

    PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales said the agency wants to ensure the continued provision of responsive health care benefits in areas declared under state of calamity or emergency.

    Under PhilHealth Circular No. 34-2013, claims of non-accredited health care facilities on behalf of members or their beneficiaries shall be covered, provided that the concerned facilities are duly licensed or certified by the Department of Health.

    The privilege is also being extended to services by non-accredited health care professionals but are holders of valid license issued by the Professional Regulations Commission.

    Also covered are claims for medical treatments done as an out patient or in patient relative to both direct and indirect effects of a fortuitous event within improvised or satellite facilities, as well as for patients being transferred from or managed by health care personnel from accredited facilities in evacuation areas or improvised health care facilities.

    The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration has opened “Task Force Taal Libreng Itawag” in Alfonso, Cavite, where there will be free domestic and international calls, a charging station, free Wife, and other ancillary services for evacuees.

    “The Libreng Itawag is open to all the evacuees, OFW or not, so they can contact their families, loved ones, or whoever they would like to reach out regarding their current situation,” said OWWA deputy administrator Josephine Torres.

    The United States announced the provision of $100,000 (around P5.1 million) in relief assistance for affected communities.

    US Ambassador Sung Kim made the announcement yesterday during a visit to the Nasugbu West Central School in Batangas which is one of the evacuation centers used by the affected residents.

    “With this new funding, the United States government, through US Agency for International Development partner World Vision, is providing relief supplies including soap, sleeping mats, and blankets, to nearly 7,600 people in the Nasugbu West Central School evacuation center,” Kim said.

    DDR, HEARINGS

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the Senate will conduct a hearing next week on the proposed creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR).

    To be invited are stakeholders and scientists “so we will have a comprehensive understanding of the necessity of a department to handle disaster resilience and all the thematic areas involved.”

    He said the Senate hearing will focus on the logistical requirement which will possibly be needed for the creation of the department.

    “Having said that, questions like – will it need heavy equipment for reconstruction? Multi hazard mapping experts and scientists? Social workers? (are needed to be answered),” Lacson said.

    The House of Representatives held its plenary session in Batangas City where lawmakers listened to the calls of local officials whose towns were most affected by Taal’s activities.

    Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, with more than 180 lawmakers, brought the afternoon session to the Batangas City Convention Center where they also approved two resolutions calling for additional funds for evacuees and rehabilitation their towns, and opened deliberations on the DDR bills.

    The session’s venue is right beside one of the biggest evacuation centers.

    Batangas Rep. Mario Victoria Marino, who chairs the House committee on government reorganization, sponsored the House Bill No. 5989 or the DDR under committee report No. 200.

    Under the bill, the DDR will be the primary agency “responsible, accountable, and liable for leading, managing, and organizing national efforts to prevent and reduce disaster risks; prepare for and respond to disasters; and recover, rehabilitate and build forward better after the destruction.”

    The DDR will still have the Office of Civil Defense as its core organization to which the Climate Change Commission Office, the Health Emergency Management Bureau of the Department of Health (DOH), the Disaster Response Assistance and the Disaster Response Management Bureau of the Department of Social Welfare and Development will be integrated.

    Before the session, the House committee on appropriations voted to endorse the DDR bill and approved its budgetary component. — With Jocelyn Montemayor, Gerard Naval, Ashzel Hachero, Raymond Africa, and Wendell Vigilia