PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday said he is withdrawing soldiers and policemen who are keeping residents out of the permanent danger zone in Taal Volcano in Batangas.
He said there could be an “ugly situation” as some residents insist on returning to their homes in the danger zone, while the policemen and soldiers deployed around Taal are there to stop them.
Duterte, at the 69th anniversary celebration of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, said if the people want to jump into the “cauldron of fire and lava, go ahead.”
He lamented that some people do not appreciate that the policemen and soldiers who are keeping them away from the danger zone have families and have been putting their lives at risk to keep the evacuees safe.
He said he would leave it to the local government to enforce the law.
He also said the health of the policemen and soldiers is at risk the longer they stay in the area because of ash from Taal.
“I’m withdrawing my police and, they have been there for so many weeks already. Puno na iyung lungs nila ng abo … Ngayon, kung gusto nila talagang magpilit na pumunta eh di sige (I’m withdrawing my police and, they have been there for so many weeks already. Their lungs are now full of ash… Now if you [evacuees] want to return, go ahead),” he said.
He thanked DSWD personnel who are among the first responders not only after Taal spewed steam and ash on January 12 but also during times of calamities and emergencies.
Taal was placed under alert level 4 on January 12, from level 1, after it intensified activities. The alert was lowered to level 3 on Sunday because of a reduced threat of hazardous eruption.
The Philippine Institute of Seismology and Volcanology also reduced the danger zone to seven from 14 kilometers, paving the way for the return of most of the evacuees.
As of Tuesday, more than half of some 111,000 residents displaced by Taal’s restiveness have returned to their homes, according to the Batangas Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Senate committee on national defense chair, it is high time for government to switch to a prevention and mitigation stance in dealing with disasters, instead of taking action only during the actual disaster.
Lacson, head of the Senate committee on national defense and security, issued the statement during a hearing on the proposed creation of a “Department on Disaster Resilience.”
“Prevention and mitigation na (already) so we can prevent loss of lives, instead of being reactive. That’s (during disaster) the only time we scramble,” he said.
Lacson also said two questions must be addressed first before the Senate can consider creating a new department. These are if the new department necessary and if creating it is feasible.
Lacson also questioned estimates of a P1-billion startup fund for a new department. He said the amount is not enough even for a building.
Sen. Christopher Go said the creation of the new department will cut the lengthy process of downloading calamity funds for disaster preparations, management, and mitigation efforts.
He said under the new department, all efforts in relation to disaster response will now be under one central authority.
He said there is a need to have a point person having a rank of Cabinet secretary in charge of disaster preparedness, response, mitigation, and recovery. – With Raymond Africa