Phivolcs ready to face probe into Taal warnings

MANILA — The Philippine Institute of Volcanology Seismology (Phivolcs) on Monday said it is ready to face the House of Representatives for a probe into its alleged lapses in issuing timely warnings on the Taal Volcano eruption.

Phivolcs executive director Renato Solidum Jr. said he will explain before lawmakers the measures undertaken by the agency and local government to educate and prepare residents living within the volcano’s 14-kilometer danger zone.

“Wala naman po kaming problema na sumagot sa mga katanungan (We have no problems answering questions),” Solidum said in a Laging Handa press briefing in Malacañang.

Solidum said Batangas residents had a “different perception” about Phivolcs’ issuance of proper warnings as early as March 2019 than those living outside the province.

“Since March 2019, marami nang ginagawa at the local level sa preparedness diyan sa posibleng pagsabog ng Taal (there has been so much done at the local level when it comes to preparedness on the volcano’s imminent eruption),” Solidum said.

He said since alert level 1 was raised over Taal Volcano last year, residents were prohibited from entering the volcano’s crater.

Earlier, Cavite 4th District Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. called for an inquiry into Phivolcs’ supposed failure to inform the public about the volcano’s imminent eruption.

He claimed that Phivolcs did not disseminate information about the volcano’s increased activity until January 12.

From alert level 1, Phivolcs raised the alert level to 2 at 2:30 p.m. then raised it again to alert level 3 at 4 p.m.

Alert Level 4, which means that “a hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days”, is still in effect.

The Phivolcs has also been constantly issuing alert bulletins and infographics on its website and Facebook page.

Last week, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte is satisfied with the Phivolcs’ performance despite criticism over its supposed lack of warning alerts.

Netizens also came to Phivolcs’ defense, saying the bad timing of the congressional probe at a time when their workers were needed the most.

Fake news

Following false reports that the Phivolcs has raised the alert level to 5, Interior Secretary Epimaco Densing III discouraged the public to verify news before clicking the share button.

“Sana huwag ho tayong magkalat ho nang hindi tamang mga impormasyon (I hope we do not spread false information) or fake news,” Densing said.

Densing said he was told that a netizen was using the logo of the Phivolcs and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) to make it appear that the announcement was genuine.

“Kapag nakakuha kayo ng information kahit gamit-gamit pa ang logo ng Phivolcs at NDRRMC, i-verify ninyo po bago ninyo po ikalat kasi po makaka-create ho ito nang hindi magandang pangitain sa ating mga kababayan (When you get information, even if the account uses the logo of Phivolcs and NDRRMC, verify it first before sharing because it could create panic among the public),” he added.

Displaced students

Meanwhile, Densing said concerned government agencies are still discussing the call of the Department of Education (DepEd) to spare schools from being used as evacuation centers during calamities.

“At the moment, kailangang pag-usapan iyan ng malaliman pa ng ibang mga sektor especially sa local DRRMC dahil kapag tinanggal po natin iyong mga evacuation centers, hindi pa natin na-identify kung saan sila puwedeng ilipat (it needs to be deeply discussed with other sectors especially local disaster risk reduction management councils because if we remove the evacuation centers, we don’t know where we can transfer them),” Densing said.

Office of Civil Defense (OCD) Assistant Secretary Casiano Monilla, meanwhile, assured that the government is looking at building more evacuation centers to avoid using school gyms as a temporary shelter.

Since last weekend’s eruption of the Taal Volcano, classes have remained suspended in the provinces of Cavite and Batangas, and some parts of Laguna.

DepEd said about 7,895 schools in 58 divisions with 7,228,468 learners have been affected by the Taal Volcano eruption.

To complete the school calendar days, learners affected by natural disasters usually attend extended class hours, have classes during holidays and weekends, and adapt to alternative ways of learning.  Azer Parrocha /PNA –