MANILA — As thousands of people started evacuating due to the restive Taal on Thursday, President Rodrigo Duterte joked he would place a cap on the volcano's crater, before he gave assurance that the government is ready to provide aid in any possible calamity.
Authorities have started evacuations south of Manila after Taal spewed a 1-kilometer high plume of gas and steam, which prompted authorities to raise the volcano's alert status.
Asked if he would call for a command conference on this, Duterte said, "Not necessarily."
"Hindi ko malaman kung, dumaan man kami kanina, konti lang. Siguro lagyan ko lang ng cap, yung butas. Taal na yan," he said in a press briefing.
(I don't know if, we passed there a while ago, just a bit. Perhaps I will just put a cap on the crater. That Taal.)
Pressed for a reminder for the public, Duterte said, "There is always an exigency measure of government."
"Anong pangyayari, nandyan sina [Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman] Atty. [Benhur] Abalos. Kanila 'yan," the President said during the inauguration of the LRT-2 extension in Antipolo City.
(Whatever happens, Atty. Abalos is there. That's their assignment.)
"Iyong ibang trabahante ko, hindi ko nakita, baka nahulog na doon sa butas. I was expecting to see them here," he added.
(I did not see some of my workers, maybe they fell into the crater.)
Video courtesy of PTV
The government, he said, would "raise the alert on the level that it should."
"Now, it’s just a rumbling and it’s spewing, I don’t know if it’s really the ashes. Apektado daw tayo (they say we're affected)," he continued.
"But it’s not really a grave concern for us at this time. Maybe it will degenerate into something bad. By that time, we will know."
The social welfare department has prepositioned aid in its warehouses, said the President.
"‘Pag pumutok ‘yang Taal, meron na doon, naka i-station na ang mga tulong nila."
"It could get worse. But I said, there will be instant gratification because there are workers on the ground ready. Iyan ang gusto ko sa military, methodical ang ano nila. And the rest are also good," he said.
(If that Taal erupts, the aid is already there... That is what I like with the military, they are methodical.)
The alert for the Taal volcano, about 70 kilometers south of central Manila, moved to level 3 from level 2 on the 5-level scale, which the seismology and volcanology agency said meant a "magmatic intrusion" at the main crater "could further drive succeeding eruptions".
Taal is one of the world's smallest active volcanoes. Despite standing at only 311 meters, it can be deadly and an eruption in 1911 killed more than 1,300 people.
In January last year, Taal shot a column of ash and steam as high as 15 km into the sky, which forced more than 100,000 people to abandon their homes, widespread flight cancellations and heavy ash falls in Manila.
At that time, Duterte said he would visit affected areas, eat toxic volcanic ash, and pee on Taal.
While the situation could go either way, authorities on Thursday warned that the type of eruption could potentially be more hazardous than that of last year.
Water in Taal's crater boiled before and after its eruption, a video posted on the Facebook page of the seismology agency showed.
Magma made contact with the crater's water, which then turned into gas and vapor, known as a phreatomagmatic eruption.
"Phreatomagmatic is more dangerous because there's already an interaction with magma," Maria Antonia Bornas, chief of the agency's monitoring and eruption prediction division, told a news conference.
The towns of Agoncillo and Laurel, situated on the lake surrounding the Taal volcano, were in danger from eruption and volcanic tsunami, the seismology agency said.
The national disaster bureau warned of eruption-related quakes.
The evacuation of Agoncillo started late afternoon, Batangas provincial governor Hermilando Mandanas said, with 3,523 families or 14,495 people to be moved to safe areas.
Dump trucks were sent to assist and pay loaders and evacuation centers were being readied, he added.
— With a report from Neil Jerome Morales, Reuters