Turning a bad thing into a good thing

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    TONS and tons of volcanic ashes that were spewed by the restive Taal Volcano in Batangas flew not just in the outlying towns surrounding Taal Lake but also reached the nearby provinces of Laguna and Cavite, and even as far as Pampanga and Pangasinan in Central Luzon. Public health experts have warned that inhaling volcanic ash, gases, and sulfur could lead to irritation of the nose, eyes and skin, bronchitis, cough, colds and other respiratory diseases. This led to a great demand for face masks in many areas in Metro Manila and Luzon.

    The smoke-and-ash plume was as picture-perfect as it is risky to human, animal, and plant life, as the devastation in nearby Agoncillo town in Batangas showed, with most of its coconut trees downed by the heavy ashfall. Good as background in an unforgettable wedding photo in Tagaytay, but generally bad for the region, the poor farmers and fishermen of Batangas, and the national economy and coffers.

    But right-thinking, resourceful Filipinos are always on the lookout for turning a catastrophe into something positive, by being pliant as the bamboo, by having the ability to bounce back after every tragedy.

    This was what happened in nearby Binan, Laguna which was also reached by thick ashfall.

    The staff of the Binan City’s Materials and Recovery, on the inspiration of Binan Mayor Arman Dimaguila Jr., tried to turn sacks of volcanic ash into durable bricks and hallow blocks, and their experiment proved successful. They were able to produce good, strong bricks for the construction industry from a mixture of volcanic ash and sand, or whatever materials they previously used in this project.

    Mayor Dimaguila said the workshop had been producing some 3,000 bricks a day, and now they have increased production by using volcanic ash and getting this raw material from nearby towns and cities in Batangas.

    The effort is full of health risks, though, but the people of Binan have been inspired by their local officials to help the victims of Taal Volcano eruption and this is one practical way to do it. Mayor Dimaguila said they will return the ashes to their sources in Batangas as bricks and hallow blocks that could be used in the massive rebuilding effort to come.

    Binan’s experiment had a stamp of approval from experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who said that pulverizing volcanic ash and adding it to the mixture of construction materials can make physical structures stronger. But the mixture must be formulated correctly to produce a good product, they said.

    Perhaps unknown to the Binan folk, their project of turning volcanic ash into construction materials is a practical application of Chairman Mao Zedong’s admonition to the Chinese in his time: turn a bad thing into a good thing. It is an old communist adage with productive, timeless application.

    Perhaps Filipinos in other areas can still think of ways on how to turn this bad thing into a good thing, instead of just sulking and falling into the depths of immobility and despair because of this natural tragedy.