‘Public educated on dangers from Taal’

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    THE Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has been warning the public about the activities of Taal Volcano since March last year, Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum Jr. said yesterday as he dismissed claims that the agency was caught off guard by the phreatic eruption last Sunday.

    Solidum made the statement during the “Virtual Presser” in Malacañang which was also attended by Mark Timbal, spokesman of the National Disaster Risk Reduction management Council (NDRRMC).

    Timbal said communities around the volcano in Batangas have been “educated” about the dangers posed by the volcano.

    “Way before the actual activity of Taal, the NDRRMC through Phivolcs … we have been able to educate the people in those areas on the possible dangers posed by Taal. So proper organization and education of the residents had been done and established so this sort of observation that the government has been caught off guard by this emergency is just, I guess, an imagination of our people,” Timbal said.

    Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. is calling for a House inquiry that will look into Phivolcs’ alleged failure to warn the public of the imminent explosion. Cavite was one of the areas affected by an ashfall event on Sunday. Yesterday, it was placed under a state of calamity.

    Solidum, in the presser, said phreatic eruptions, or steam-driven explosions, are the most difficult to forecast but are among the indicators of a possible volcanic eruption.

    He said that in March last year, Phivolcs raised the alert level at Taal Volcano in Batangas from zero (normal) to abnormal (level 1) following signs of high gas content in the crater lake, increasing number of earthquakes, and rising ground level.

    “Those are the indicators that something is brewing up inside the volcano. But the phreatic eruption is actually one of the indicators for us for the beginning of an activity of Taal that may facilitate the rapid or sudden explosion of the volcano into a larger taller eruption column,” he said.

    Solidum said Phivolcs observed signs of a phreatic eruption about two hours before it occurred.

    “But essentially, we don’t warn for the phreatic eruption … We are warning for the larger, hazardous explosive eruptions that kill people. We have to understand that small events are not events that we design for warning,” he said.

    He also while Phivolcs does not issue public warnings about phreatic eruptions, it has identified and declared a permanent danger zone at the volcanic island, which means people are prohibited from being there.

    He said the permanent danger zone was established because steam explosions are hard to predict. He said Phivolcs had also included in its previous forecasts that people should not go inside the crater.

    Solidum said the local government of Batangas, including towns around the volcano, have been closely coordinating with Phivolcs and other concerned agencies in preparation for possible eruptions.

    Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said President Duterte has ordered that “no person should stay within the Taal Volcano Island until it is declared safe by pertinent agencies of the government.”

    Panelo also said Malacañang is asking the public, particularly those who have been living in the island, for their cooperation and understanding as the Taal Volcano Island is a permanent danger zone and not fit for human settlement.

    PRICE FREEZE ON MEDS

    The Department of Health has imposed a price freeze on about 210 essential medicines and medical supplies in areas affected by Taal’s steam eruption.

    Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the price freeze will be in effect for the duration of Taal’s activities.

    “The DOH is mandated to monitor and regulate drug prices as well as ensure that consumers are protected against profiteering, hoarding, cartels, and the like that compromises their access to essential pharmaceutical products,” he said in an order.

    Among the 210 medicines covered by the price freeze are analgesics, anti-allergies, anti-convulsants, antidotes, antibiotics, antibacterial agents, anti-fungals, antivirals, cardiovascular drugs, corticosteroids, dermatological drugs, disinfectants and antiseptics, diuretics, gastrointestinal drugs, oxytoxics, psychotherapeutic drugs, respiratory tract drugs, anti-emetic, anti-diabetic, hypercholesterolemia agent, antihypertensive agents, anti-asthma, anti-shock medicines, and electrolyte and caloric drugs.

    Eight types of medical supplies included in the order were N95 and disposable face masks, nebulizer, neb kit adult, neb kit pedia, oxygen cannula pedia, oxygen cannula adult, and oxygen cannula neonatal.

    Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo assured the public that fruits and vegetables harvested from ashfall-affected areas are safe to eat provide that these are washed thoroughly.

    What is not safe to eat are fish and meat products from animals which may have ingested toxins from the ashfall, he said.

    AID

    The Department of Labor and Employment has approved the allocation of P72.3 million for emergency assistance to workers displaced by the eruption.

    A relief operations team of the Philippine Amusements and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) delivered 1,500 non-food packs containing blankets, mosquito nets, slippers, and toiletries to evacuees at the Bauan Technical High School and Bauan East Central School in Bauan town. Pagcor also distributed used clothes donated by the agency’s employees.

    The relief-giving activity was led by VP for Corporate Social Responsibility Group Jimmy Bondoc, who vowed to continue providing aid to the evacuees until the situation in the province returns to normal.

    The Muntinlupa city government sent some 3,400 grocery packs and bottles of water to the towns of Calaca, Alfonso, Nasugbu, Batangas, Bauan, San Pascual, Balayan, and Sto. Tomas in Batangas.

    The San Juan city government said it will give P2 million financial aid to Batangas.

    “We in the city of San Juan feel the hardship being experienced by our kababayans in the affected areas … we would like to extend any help we could to alleviate their suffering,” said Mayor Francis Zamora.

    Caritas Philippines, the humanitarian, development and advocacy arm of the Catholic Church, asked all 83 diocesan social action centers to assist affected residents and appealed for help from organizations and individuals.

    Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, Caritas national director, said the aid will be used to provide immediate needs such as water, food, face masks, towels, blankets, and medicines for acute respiratory infections.

    DISASTER DEP’T

    Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito-Castelo urged President Duterte to certify as urgent a bill creating a Department of Disaster Resiliency that will be the primary agency responsible for leading national operations before, during, and after disasters.

    Castelo, a vice chair of the House committee on Metro Manila development, said the country needs a “super body” to zero in on its requirement for disaster preparedness, response and rehabilitation because it lacks is “a coordinating body with highly trained individuals and available budget to handle such delicate tasks.”

    The House committee on government reorganization approved a substitute bill following the President’s call for the measure’s passage in his last state of the nation address in July last year.

    Deputy speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte, one of the bill’s authors, sought the construction of permanent evacuation centers in places most vulnerable to natural disasters.

    Villafuerte first raised his proposal for the construction of permanent facilities for evacuees in September 2018, following the onslaught in Luzon of typhoon “Ompong” which killed at least 65 people and sent over 100,000 people to evacuation centers. – With Gerard Naval, Rod Lagusad, Christian Oineza and Wendell Vigilia