MANILA (UPDATE)- President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday he was recalling police officers and soldiers tasked to augment security forces in areas affected by the Taal Volcano eruption after state seismologists monitored a decreased tendency towards a hazardous eruption.
Duterte said he would leave law enforcement in ash-covered towns and cities in Batangas province to mayors as he sympathized with the plight of policemen and soldiers.
“I am withdrawing my police in Taal. They have been there for so many weeks already, puno na ang lungs nila ng abo (their lungs are now filled with ash),” Duterte said in his speech during the 69th founding anniversary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Quezon City.
“I am leaving it to the mayors and to the police assigned there to enforce the law as mandated by the authorities upstairs,” he added.
The President, who twice visited evacuees who fled Taal, also highlighted that soldiers assigned to guard danger zones “suffer.”
“Sabihin ko na sa ano Army pati na --- pa-withdraw na lang. Withdraw na lang ninyo ‘yung Army kasi kawawa (I will tell the Army to withdraw too. I pity them). They are also human beings and they suffer. And when they suffer, they have also families to worry just as much as the guys are worried there,” he said.
State seismologists on Sunday downgraded the Taal Volcano alert status to level 3 from 4, which means there is a lower chance of a hazardous eruption. This came two weeks since its steam-driven eruption that led to massive evacuations across the province.
Following the lowering of the alert status, Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas said residents of the following areas were given the option to return to their homes, but with caution: Alitagtag, Balete, Cuenca, Lemery, Lipa City, Malvar, Mataasnakahoy, San Nicolas, Sta. Teresita, Taal, Talisay, and Tanauan City.
Six villages in the towns of Agoncillo and Laurel, however, remain on lockdown as they are within the restricted zone.
“Mag-alis na kami. Kung gusto niyong tumalon diyan sa cauldron of fire and lava, go ahead. Make it short,” Duterte said.
(We’re leaving. If you want to jump into that cauldron of fire and lava, go ahead. Make it short)
Taal began spewing ash, steam, and hot rocks on Jan. 12, causing ashfall in parts of the Southern Tagalog region and Metro Manila. It also forced the cancellation of more than 600 flights, and wrought some P3.35 billion in damage to agriculture and infrastructure, according to the government disaster risk management agency.