Only firms in 8 Tagaytay villages barred from reopening

Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo

THE Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) clarified on Tuesday, January 21, that only business establishments in eight barangays in Tagaytay City are not allowed to resume operations due to the danger posed by the restive Taal Volcano.

In a statement, DILG Undersecretary and spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said the eight barangays are Bagong Tubig, Kaybagal South (Pob), Maharlika West, Sambong, San Jose, Silang Junction South, Maharlika East, and Tolentino East.

These villages were identified as “susceptible to base surge and volcanic tsunami.”

"Let me clarify that it's not the entire Tagaytay City, but only eight of its barangays were included by Phivolcs as within the danger zone, so business establishments may reopen in other areas of the city," he said.

Malaya issued the clarification after DILG Undersecretary Epimaco Densing said in a press conference in Malacañang on Monday that commercial activities within the 14-kilometer danger zone of the Taal Volcano, which includes parts of Tagaytay City, remain prohibited.

He made the pronouncement following reports that several business establishments, including SkyRanch, had resumed operations.

Malaya clarified that business establishments in the upper portion of the ridge may be allowed to reopen, but they have to seek clearance or approval from the local chief executive.

"Secretary [Eduardo] Año has decided that those located in the higher portion of the ridge which based on the Phivolcs hazard map have low risk may be allowed to reopen by the local government unit. So, it's subject to the discretion of the mayor and she will be totally responsible," he said.

Malaya said the local government of Tagaytay City should seek guidance from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology (Phivolcs) in deciding which areas in the eight barangays are safe for business establishments.

"We are not the scientific experts here, it's the DOST (Department of Science and Technology). We have requested the Phivolcs to issue the necessary written guidance to DILG on this matter," he said.

Alert Level 4 remains raised over Taal Volcano, which means that a hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours or days.

The volcano went into intense unrest on Sunday, January 12, spewing steam-laden plumes and lava fountains although eruption activities have waned in the past few days.

In its 8 a.m. bulletin Tuesday, Phivolcs said they have plotted a total of 718 volcanic earthquakes since 1 p.m. of January 12.

In the past 24 hours, it said the Taal Volcano Network, which can record small earthquakes undetectable by the Philippine Seismic Network, has recorded 448 volcanic earthquakes including 17 low-frequency earthquakes.

The Phivolcs said such intense seismic activity likely signifies continuous magmatic intrusion beneath the Taal edifice which may lead to further eruptive activity.

“DOST-Phivolcs strongly reiterates total evacuation of Taal Volcano Island and high-risk areas as identified in the hazard maps within the 14-km radius from Taal main crater and along the Pansipit River Valley where fissuring has been observed,” it said.

In a press conference, Phivolcs Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division Chief Mariton Bornas said they understand the residents' need to go home. But they could not downgrade the alert level yet.

"We understand their plight. We are working doubly hard so that we can give them the best information. We will be the first one to say if it's safe to go back because we have them in mind all the time," she said.

"Alam naman po natin ang plight ng mga nadi-displace, especially those who are in evacuation centers. We know na very stressful sa kanila," she added.

She made the statement after Talisay, Batangas Vice Mayor Charlie Natanauan reportedly expressed his dismay with Phivolcs officer-in-charge Renato Solidum's "opinions" on Taal Volcano's activity, which supposedly keep his constituents from going back to their homes.

"With all due respect to the Vice Mayor, we can understand that he is under so much stress, there are so many things (happening) and he is under pressure," said Bornas.

"We would like to respect 'yung feelings ni Vice Mayor but at the same time we are firm in our science and we are doing our best so that we can inform," she added.

As of January 21, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said the affected population following the Taal eruption has already reached 271,278 persons or 68,439 families.

Of the total, 38,906 families or 148,514 people were taking temporary shelters in the evacuation centers provided by the government.

For its part, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said P18.43 million worth of assistance has been spent for relief operations.

The disaster council said the towns of Lemery, Agoncillo, Balete, Sta. Teresita, Talisay, Tanauan and San Nicolas remained on total lockdown as of Tuesday while the areas of Laurel and Taal were under partial lockdown.

Meanwhile, in Tanauan City, Mayor Sweet Halili said they will continue to allow their residents to go home and retrieve their belongings or feed their livestock during the designated "window hours".

Año has said, however, that he will stop the "window hours" in line with the total lockdown policy. (SunStar Philippines)