Batangas governor fosters positivity amid Taal uncertainty

Ronron Calunsod, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 22 2020 05:54 AM

Children try to enjoy their stay at the Batangas provincial gym on January 21, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

BATANGAS—The governor of Batangas province sought to ignite a positive spirit among people affected by the volcano eruption here on Jan. 12 and those helping them, as he expressed concern Tuesday over the uncertainty of the duration of the crisis.

Faced with the responsibility of addressing the needs of some 1 million displaced residents following the phreatic-then-magmatic eruption of Taal Volcano, Gov. Hermilando Mandanas trumpeted the “magiting” or brave spirit of Filipinos “so that we will be able to lift up the spirit of the evacuees . . . and, we hope, with the others also, that we would be able to inspire and motivate all those who are assisting.”

“It’s very important that everybody should have this strong and really fervent hope that we will not only be able to recover, but we will be stronger after this particular incident,” said Mandanas, who was speaking in a news conference at the province’s sports complex where some 2,000 people are temporarily seeking shelter.

“We have to really make our people believe that there is hope, that there is help.”

The massive displacement of people stemmed from the imposition by authorities of a mandatory clearance of areas within a 14-kilometer radius from the crater of the country’s second-most active volcano. Aside from possibly being directly affected should a dreaded hazardous explosion happen, the areas surrounding the island volcano have been heavily covered with expelled volcanic ash and manifested cracks due to fissures and the related volcanic tremors.

Mandanas said that of the displaced residents, some 200,000 are staying in identified evacuation centers while the rest are in houses of people they know.

Regardless of its accommodation, the government is extending relief goods and other forms of assistance to them, he said, placing the daily cost per person between P100 to P150. And even those hosting displaced residents “also need help.”

Thanks to the available funds from the province amounting to at least P8 billion, the assistance from the central and other local governments, and those from non-government organizations, corporations, foreign entities and private individuals, the provincial government is able to sustain the needs of the affected residents. It is also counting on the P30 billion pledged by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“That’s why we can still sustain it,” Mandanas said. “Right now, we could safely say that everything is under control.”

But “how long? We don’t know. Even Phivolcs (Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology) doesn’t know. Nobody knows. Even our president admits that only God knows.”

“It is true that we do not know up to when this situation that we are having right now will continue. We do not even know whether it will be aggravated, or mitigated by the developments right now,” Mandanas said.

“These are the concerns that we are facing right now.”

Speaking to ABS-CBN News, Maria Marcillana, 69, said that while she appreciates the sufficiency of relief supplies for evacuees like her at the Batangas Provincial Sports Complex, she longs already to return home in Taal town due to boredom in the evacuation center.

“Naiisip nga namin, kung saan man naroon ang tao, kung talagang mamamatay, eh mamamatay. Ang gusto ko ay umuwi na sa amin,” lamented Marcillana, who witnessed also the explosion of Taal Volcano in 1965 and 1977.

(We realized that wherever a person is, if it’s time to die, then he/she dies. I just really want to go home.)

She said she even resents being moved to a resettlement house in the province, which authorities are set to do soon to vacate schools being used as evacuation centers to allow the resumption of classes. The place, she complained, will take her farther from home.

Mandanas said Batangueños are inherently not comfortable staying in evacuation centers, citing their pride and desire to be self-reliant. But he said they can also be forbearing when situations call for it.

“Kailangang kailangan palakasin ang loob ng ating mga kababayan. Kailangang kailangan buhayin ang pag-asa. Kailangang kailangan patibayin ang kanilang paniniwala na maganda ang kanilang kalalagyan at kinabukasan,” he said.

(It’s very important to give our compatriots encouragement. It’s very important to keep their hopes alive. It’s very important to convince them that a better place and future await them.)

Mandanas said he welcomed pledges of and actual assistance from foreign governments, including those of China, the European Union, Taiwan, Japan and the United States, to help address needs related to the current crisis.