'Siya ba ay Diyos?' Talisay vice-mayor blasts Phivolcs, wants constituents to return home

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 20 2020 12:53 PM | Updated as of Jan 20 2020 05:49 PM

Birds fly over houses covered in ash on volcano island in Talisay, Batangas, January 19, 2020. Despite the calm appearance, authorities have maintained alert level 4 reminding people that the volcano can erupt violently anytime. Czar Dancel, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The vice mayor of Talisay, Batangas appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte Monday to allow his constituents to return home even as state seismologists warned that a hazardous Taal Volcano eruption is still possible.

Speaking to radio DZMM, Talisay Vice Mayor Charlie Natanauan also criticized chief seismologist Renato Solidum over the volcano alert warnings, saying the head seismologist should change his "opinion" about Taal's activity.

"Ang plano ko as vice mayor ay ako ay humihingi ng kuwan kay Presidente Duterte na kung maaari 'yung opinyon ng Phivolcs ay medyo baguhin kasi masyado niyang pinalala ang sitwasyon ng balita," Natanauan said.

(I will ask President Duterte if [Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology] could change its opinion on the volcano because he makes the situation seem worse.)

"Masyado niyang ano e, sabi niya mas malakas ang puputok na susunod, nag iipon lamang. Opinyon niya 'yon...Nag-iisa siya (Solidum) sa kaniyang opinyon. Kami buong Batangas ang naapektuhan sa kaniyang sinasabi. Pag-aralan niyang mabuti," he added.

(He is the only one saying that and it's affecting the whole Batangas province. He should study it well.)

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Citing his father's stories, Natanauan said Taal's eruption in 1965 killed many people "because we didn't have motorized boats near the island."

He said that even if the volcano erupts, he expects the lava to stop once it hits the water "because it will get wet."

"Pagkabagsak (ng lava) sa tubig, tumitigil siya dahil nababasa," he said.

In previous media briefings, Phivolcs warned the public about base surges or high-speed blasts of hot gas, ash and volcanic debris that can float over water and reach lakeshore communities. This is what happened during the deadly 1754 and 1965 eruptions of Taal, which killed 1,300 and 200 people, respectively. Base surges are not only deadly, killing everything on its path, they are also subsonic in speed, which means people cannot outrun them.

Natanauan also claimed it would be unlikely for a hazardous eruption to happen since it appeared that the volcano only released steam last week. But in previous eruptions, volcanic activity lasted from days to up to seven months before ending in an explosive eruption.

Recently, Phivolcs has warned of rising magma underneath Taal Volcano that could fuel a powerful eruption.

Natanauan also cast doubt on Solidum's statement, saying Phivolcs was unable to predict the ash eruption last January 12.

"Wala pang nakapag predict sa buong mundo kahit scientist sa pagputok ng bulkan," he said.

"Bakit naman nasabi niya, siya ba ay Diyos?" he asked.

Contrary to the Vice Mayor's claim though, Taal Volcano has been on alert level 1 since March last year because of the series of volcanic earthquakes being felt in the area.

Hours before the phreatic or steam-driven eruptions last January 12, Phivolcs asked residents of the Taal Volcano Island to evacuate, which is why there were no casualties in their community.

DEFYING WARNINGS

Phivolcs on Monday said there could be a "strong eruption" of the volcano should magma reach Taal's crater since there is an ongoing "re-charge" of magma or molten rocks beneath it.

Several towns in Batangas were rocked by earthquakes Sunday night, stoking fears of a possible violent eruption.

"Ang history ng bulkang ito naglilindol muna bago siya pumutok eh ngayon naman walang lindol...Ako ordinaryong tao lamang pero 'yung mga sinasabi nilang pagsabog noong araw lang iyon," Natanauan said.

(Historically, there are earthquakes first before this volcano erupts. But there are no earthquakes. I'm just an ordinary person but the eruptions that they are saying only happened long ago.)

Since January 12, Phivolcs has monitored 714 volcanic earthquakes in the Taal Volcano area. Of that number 176 were at magnitudes 1.2 to 4.1 and were felt at Intensities I to V. Solidum has said that the earthquakes, even if some aren't felt, meant that magma was rising from underground.

Natanauan said residents should be allowed to return to their homes since the town is already losing money due to suspended business operations.

"Pabalikin na kami sana dahil wala naman nakaka-detect ng putok ng bulkan, di na nga nagalaw," he told radio DZMM.

(Allow us to go back because no one can detect a volcanic eruption)

"Pabalikin ang tao kasi normal na. Ano bang gusto niya (Solidum)?" he added.

(Allow the people to return. What does he want to happen?)

Last week, fissures on the ground were seen in various parts of Batangas, including the towns of Agoncillo, Lemery, San Nicolas, and Talisay, destroying some houses. Phivolcs said these fissures are another sign that the ground was being deformed because of magma movement underground.

Solidum however said state seismologists cannot downgrade its warning of a possible hazardous eruption due to the rising magma underneath the volcano.

"Hindi natin maiaalis [ang banta sa posibleng base surge] hangga't paakyat ang magma," he told radio DZRH.

(We cannot downgrade the warning because there is rising magma)

Natanauan also urged the government to allow people to eat fish from the Taal Lake even after the Department of Health warned of toxic chemicals from the volcano that may have been ingested by the fish.

"Hindi dapat ipagbawal, oh kami muna magtestingan ako muna kakain. Mayroon din nabili, sanay kami sa ganito," he said.

(Don't prevent people from eating fish. Let's test it, I'll eat it first. Many people buy fish, we're used to this.)

The health department earlier said that freshwater fish such as tilapia and tawilis could be affected by the sulfur brought about by the eruption.

"Kung talagang nakamamatay 'yan, eh di sana lahat [ng isda] patay, eh bakit may buhay?" Natanauan said.

(If that is really deadly why are some of the fish still alive?)

Batangas Vice Governor Mark Leviste, meanwhile, said those who will return to "high-risk" zones near the volcano could be charged with violation of the disaster management law.

Batangas remains at a pause since last week as Taal belches steam and ash, forcing thousands to flee their homes.

Taal, one of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines, erupted more than 30 times in the past 5 centuries, most recently in 1977. An eruption in 1911 killed 1,500 people and one in 1754 lasted for a few months.

-- With a report from Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News.