MANILA — As desperate Taal residents fled their homes to escape a potentially fatal volcanic eruption, they left behind their animals, among them grass-fed cows now starving to death with lawns now covered with poisonous volcanic ash.
Anna Cabrera, executive director of Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), recounted the scenario she arrived at in one of Taal's coastal towns, a day after the volcano began spewing mud and lava from its crater.
"Marami kaming nakitang mga baka na naiwanan, wala na silang access sa grass kasi natabunan na ng ash so nakakaawa talaga," Cabrera told DZMM late Monday night.
The volcano's eruption on Sunday prompted thousands to leave behind their homes and transformed the former picturesque destinations into "ghost towns" overnight.
But while residents have been successfully relocated away from the volcano's wrath, their farm animals that serve as their livelihood were abandoned without edible grass and clean water in sight.
In one of the videos posted on PAWS' Facebook page, volunteers saw chickens roaming around the ash-covered ground looking for anything to eat. With no poultry feed in their loot, volunteers had no choice but to feed chickens with dog food.
This scenario could have been avoided, Cabrera lamented, if the government only had the foresight to include animals in their disaster plans.
"Iyan na nga ang sinasabi namin simula pa sa ating government na kung preparedness ang pinu-push natin, hindi naman kailangan mamili kung animals or people [ang ise-save]... Puwede naman kung maayos lang ang national disaster plan na kasama pati ang mga hayop."
Cabrera said that for a decade now, her non-profit animal welfare organization has been trying to pitch in a more inclusive evacuation strategy to the country's disaster agency.
"From 2010 we've been pushing for the integration of animal shelters within the evacuation centers... So sana moving forward we'll be invited to the table kasi noon pa namin sinisingit ang sarili namin pero hindi naman kami na-invite ng NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council)," said Cabrera.
These animals are not only livelihood for people, but treated as family members as well.
"Actually ‘yan ang naging problema sa US, nag-try silang ilikas 'yung mga tao from Hurricane Katrina, sabi iwanan ‘yung mga hayop, so nagkaroon ng problema evacuating humans... Maganda talaga may comprehensive plan na kasama ang hayop kasi part din yan ng pamilya."
State seismology institute Phivolcs earlier raised the danger level posed by the volcano to 4 out of a possible 5 - meaning "hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days."
Despite this advisory, PAWS said they will return to the abandoned towns Tuesday to bring more supplies for the animals left behind.
One of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines, Taal has 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.