Gov’t not ‘caught off guard’ by Taal Volcano’s eruption

MANILA — The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) denied that it failed to inform the public about Taal Volcano’s imminent eruption.

Department of Science and Technology Undersecretary and Phivolcs director Renato Solidum Jr. made this reaction after Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. called for a congressional probe into the Phivolcs’ alleged failure to provide news bulletins or text alerts about the hazards of Taal’s volcanic activity despite the warning of alert level 1 since March 2019.

Solidum said the fact that the agency upgraded the alert levels since last year is an indicator that “something is brewing up inside the volcano.”

“We have raised the alert level from 0, which is normal, to already abnormal by March 2019. And we have been telling people about the high gas content in the crater lake, the number of earthquakes we are recording is high, and the ground is being lifted up,” Solidum said in a press briefing in Malacañang.

“The phreatic eruption is actually one of the indicators for us or the beginning of an activity of Taal that may facilitate the rapid or sudden explosion of the volcano into a larger and taller eruption column,” he added.

Solidum acknowledged that Phivolcs only saw signs of the phreatic eruption two hours before it happened, but noted smaller eruptions are not designed for warning.

“There is the perception that we are forecasting for small events which are phreatic eruption. It’s very difficult to do that but we actually use it to indicate further bigger explosions. We are warning for the larger, hazardous explosive eruption that kills people,” he said.

Despite being on Alert Level 1 only, Solidum explained that Phivolcs has been coordinating with the local government of Batangas in preparation for the imminent eruption.

“We have always been repeating the possible large eruption of the volcano,” Solidum said.

In November 2019, Solidum said the Department of Education (DepEd) Batangas Province even stopped the operation of all the schools on the island and required all students to have classes in the mainland because of the threat of the eruption and the numerous earthquakes.

Citing the example of White Island Volcano in New Zealand, Solidum noted that at least 20 people were killed when it erupted.

There were nearly 50 people on or near White Island when it erupted on December 9, 2019.

‘Just an imagination’

National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) spokesperson Mark Timbal echoed Solidum, stressing that residents living near the volcano have also been educated about its possible dangers.

“Way before the actual activity of Taal, the NDRRMC through Phivolcs…We have been able to educate the people in those areas on the possible dangers posed by or provided by Taal,” Timbal said.

“Proper organization and education of the residents had been done and established so this sort of observation that the government has been caught off guard by this emergency is just I guess an imagination of our people,” he added.

He also said the contingency plan developed by the regional disaster council is also going according to plan.

On Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte approved the recommendations of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to mitigate the impact of Taal Volcano’s eruption.

These recommendations include the total evacuation of Taal Volcano Island and areas at high-risk to pyroclastic density currents and volcanic tsunami within a 14-km radius from Taal main crater and no-human settlement policy in Taal Volcano Island which is a Permanent Danger Zone.

The DOST also advised the public to prepare against the effects of heavy and prolonged ashfall; advised aircraft to avoid the airspace around the Taal Volcano; and finalize hard sensitive land use plans for the towns surrounding the volcanoes.

Duterte also approved the recommendation of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, NDRRMC chairperson, to declare Taal Island as “No Man’s Land” or that it has no permanent habitation.

Taal Volcano started spewing ash on Sunday, prompting the Phivolcs to raise the alert level 4 which means “hazardous eruption is possible within days.”   Azer Parrocha /PNA –