Patrols stepped up in Taal danger zone

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    AUTHORITIES have stepped up patrols to prevent Batangas evacuees from venturing inside the 14-kilometer radius permanent danger zone at Taal Volcano in Batangas to visit their houses.

    Alert level 4, means a hazardous explosion is possible within hours or days, has been up at Taal since January 12. The highest alert, level 5, means a hazardous eruption is underway.

    “We’re locking it down. We’re putting up checkpoints and signage,” said Ricardo Jalad, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. “They will be conducting mobile patrols.”

    Jalad, concurrent administrator of the Office of Civil Defense, said security forces will be pulled outside the danger zone “so that their survival rate will be higher in case we reach the point of violent eruption.”

    “It’s difficult if they are inside (the danger zone), they will be among the casualties (if hazardous eruption occurs) … They will be pulled outside but they will be conducting mobile patrols,” he said.

    Local government officials earlier allowed residents a few hours to return to their houses to check on their property. Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Sunday ordered the local officials to stop the visits, citing risks involved.

    Jalad also said troops will continue checking on the presence of residents who refuse to be evacuated from the danger zone.

    “We’re strictly implementing a lockdown. They will be carried off,” he said.

    Asked how many residents are still inside the danger zone, Jalad said: “It’s not that many based on my observation from helicopter (during aerial reconnaissance).”

    Told that Año said about two percent of the population of these areas are still inside the danger zone, Jalad said: “Yes, around that (number), it’s no longer that many.”

    As of Monday, the Batangas Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) said there were 34,939 families or 134,631 persons in the 417 evacuation centers.

    The Batangas PDRRMO chief Lito Castro said mayors who will continue to allow residents to go inside the danger zone will be held accountable.

    “We will use the order from the DILG as the legal basis in running after them. Batangas is subscribing to the order of the DILG because we are under the DILG. The order is to remain outside the danger zone,” said Castro.

    Nevertheless, Castro said there are reports that some residents are going inside the danger zone without the knowledge of authorities. “Even if there are guards, there are some who are sneaking in,” he said.

    The Philippine Seismic Network (PSN) has recorded 718 volcanic earthquakes since January 12, of which seven occurred from 5 a.m. Monday to 5 a.m. yesterday, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said.

    But Phivolcs, in an 8 a.m. bulletin, said the Taal Volcano Network, which can record small earthquakes undetectable by the PSN, recorded 448 volcanic earthquakes, 17 of them low-frequency. It said this indicates continuous magmatic intrusion that may lead to further eruptive activity.

    “Activity in the main crater in the past 24 hours has been characterized by weak steam emission that generated ash plumes 500 to 600 meters tall and dispersed ash southwest of

    the main crater. Sulfur dioxide emission was measured at an average of 344 tons per day,” it added.
    In a press briefing, Mariton Bornas, chief of Phivolcs’ Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division, said an apparent lull in activity “does not mean that the danger is over.”

    Bornas reiterated the risk of Taal making a hazardous eruption is still there.

    “Now, the threat of the seismicity, the incidents of volcanic earthquakes is indeed (declining) but the type of earthquakes signifies that there is magma intrusion,” said Bornas.

    “Even if we have a lowered, diminishing trend in the earthquakes, the fact these earthquakes signify (magma intrusion), eruptible magma is already in place. Even if the (number of) earthquakes is diminishing … parameters signify the volcano is volcano is inflated and is still inflating,” Bornas said.

    Asked about the statement Monday of Vice Mayor Charlie Natanauan of Talisay City in Batangas, questioning Phivolcs director Renato Solidum’s warning of potential hazardous explosion, Bornas said, “With all due respect to the vice mayor, we can understand that he is under so much stress.”

    Natanauan said Solidum is not God so he cannot predict the actions of Taal. He urged President Duterte to allow the evacuees to return to their houses, adding he believes Taal will not make a hazardous eruption.

    The Department of the Interior and Local Government said only eight barangays in Tagaytay City are covered by a mandatory evacuation order, hence businesses may reopen in other barangays.

    Interior department spokesman Jonathan Malaya issued the clarification amid reports that Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing asked all establishments which reopened last week to heed orders for them to cease operations while alert level 4 remains.

    “Let me clarify that it’s not the entire Tagaytay City but only eight of its barangays were included by Phivolcs as within the danger zone, so business establishments may reopen in other areas of the city,” he said.

    Malaya said the eight barangays are Bagong Tubig, Kaybagal South (Pob), Maharlika West, Sambong, San Jose, Silang Junction South, Maharlika East, and Tolentino East.

    He also clarified that as to these eight barangays, those located in the higher portion of the ridge may be allowed to reopen, subject to the judgment of the Tagaytay government.

    “Secretary Año has decided that those located in the higher portion of the ridge which, based on the PHIVOLCS hazard map have low risk, may be allowed to reopen by the local government unit. So, it’s subject to the discretion of the mayor and she will be totally responsible,” he said. – With Raymond Africa