BATANGAS CITY – Local officials of Batangas province and other victims of the Jan. 12 eruption of Taal Volcano aired their plea for help before more than 200 congressmen during a plenary session held here Wednesday afternoon.
Mayors, barangay captains, and ordinary residents were among those who recealled their experience in short and impassioned speeches, punctuated with appeals for assistance for shelter, livelihood, medical and psychological intervention, and the education of their children. Some of their pleas are directed also to President Rodrigo Duterte.
“Exactly 10 days after that fateful day, I am here before Your Honors, exhausted, stressed, and most of all, grieving for the plight of our kababayans,” said Mayor Daniel Reyes of Agoncillo, one of the affected towns ordered to be completely evacuated as Alert Level 4 for Taal Volcano remains in place.
“What keeps me going though is my conviction that the national government, through this Congress, has ears that listen, a heart that cares, and the capacity to make things happen,” he said.
“I keep telling our people that what God has taken, He will replace with something better. So, now, I ask with all humility to allow me to take home to my people one thing, not an empty promise, but hope.”
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who led the 204 out of 302 solons who attended the session, said their intention of directly hearing out the victims of the Taal crisis is for them to effectively legislate measures that will address their immediate needs and help in their recovery.
Rep. Mario Vittorio “Marvey” Marino of the 5th District of Batangas took the opportunity to push for the immediate passage of a bill creating a Department of Disaster Resilience, which he regards as the country’s long-term solution in addressing calamities and their impacts.
“With the recent calamities that hit the Philippines, ito po ay isang napaka-importanteng departamento na maki-create,” he said.
(“With the recent calamities that hit the Philippines, it is very important to create this department.”)
The proposed agency, he said, will be the “primary government agency responsible for leading, organizing and managing the national effort to reduce disaster risk, and prepare for and respond to disasters,” among others.
However, Leyte 4th District Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez, who chairs the House Committee on Disaster Management, is cautioning against rushing into it.
“The eruption of Taal Volcano underscores the need for the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience. But much as we are expediting the process of its establishment, it is not prudent to rush the creation of such a critical institution,” she said in a speech during the session.
“All the more we exercise due diligence to ensure that the said department strengthens the existing systems, instead of merely duplicating what is already there.”
The lawmaker, whose home city of Ormoc endured such deadly disasters as the 1991 deadly flash floods and the 2013 supertyphoon Yolanda, suggests that as the country faces “one of the biggest challenges in modern times,” institutions should just” work with the systems already in place so that we can deliver fast and effective solutions, especially to those who need it the most.”
Meanwhile, the congressmen committed to support Duterte’s proposal for an additional P30 billion funding for the Taal crisis by passing a resolution.
Cayetano said Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda will also meet on Monday with some House committee chairpersons, including Torres-Gomez, for the consolidation of all proposals of lawmakers from the affected areas on how the body can help best.
In his remarks, Marino said Batangas and its people will definitely recover after the crisis because of the overflowing assistance from various sectors.
“Nung pumutok ang bulkan, naluluha kami dahil sa sinapit ng aking mga kababayan. Pero nung matapos po, nakita namin na bumuhos ang tulong. Lalo po akong napaluha dahil mas marami palang tao ang tumutulong, marami palang may mabubuting puso, kaysa dun sa mga nananamantala,” he said.
“When the volcano erupted, we cried because of what our compatriots had to go through. But after that, we saw a lot of help coming in. I cried harder because I realized many people are extending help, that there are many people with good hearts compared to those who take advantage.”)
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology maintained Alert Level 4 over Taal Volcano since its phreatic-then-magmatic eruption on Jan. 12, warning of a hazardous explosive eruption within hours to days.
The mandatory evacuation of residents within the 14-kilometer radius from the Taal main crater displaced up to around 1 million population, according to Batangas Governor Hermilando Mandanas. The latest report, however, of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council provided a lower figure of nearly 307,000 people from Batangas, Quezon, Laguna and Cavite provinces.
Schools and livelihood in the area were disrupted, some roads cracked, and houses and other infrastructure were destroyed. Worth of damaged agriculture is more than P3.2 billion.
The NDRRMC said more than P27 billion worth of aid have been provided by government. Different forms of assistance are also being extended by nongovernment groups and private donors.