President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday asked the local government of Albay to explain the "parameters" it uses to determine when to allow tours to Mayon Volcano, after a volcanic ash explosion killed four foreign tourists and a local guide in the area.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the President was "concerned" why tourists were able to climb to Mayon's crater despite the six-kilometer-radius permanent danger zone established around the famed volcano.
"What does it mean if it is a permanent danger zone? That prohibits permanent settlement doon sa area na iyon, but activity is not prohibited. What we understand is that the local government has restricted activity. Precisely, what the President wanted to know is kung ano 'yung parameters," Valte said at a press briefing in Malacañang.
She added that Aquino already asked Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.'s office to inquire about these "parameters" and coordinate with local officials from Albay.
Earlier in the day, a phreatic (steam-driven) explosion at the Mayon Volcano killed five people and left seven others hurt. Albay Governor Joey Salceda said the mountain climbing activities of casualties were unauthorized. He added the tourist guides failed to secure a permit from the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (APSEMO) and the Department of Tourism.
Attend to injuries, repatriate fatalities
Valte likewise said there are no plans at the moment to investigate if Salceda has any liability for the incident. Salceda is aligned with the ruling Liberal Party, which is chaired by Aquino.
The deputy presidential spokesperson said the government is currently prioritizing helping those affected by the ash explosion, especially the repatriation of the foreigners killed.
"Tingnan po muna natin kung ano magiging resulta noong insidente. The focus now is attending to the injured and of course facilitating the repatriation of the fatalities," she said.
She added that the President has not yet discussed any intention to go to Albay to personally supervise the retrieval operations.
At the same time, Valte reminded residents near Mayon Volcano to stay away from the six-kilometer-radius permanent danger zone.
"Pinapaalalahanan natin ang mga kababayan natin na may six-kilometer permanent danger zone na nakapalibot sa lugar ng bulkan. Iwasan natin ito para na rin sa ating kaligtasan," she said. — RSJ, GMA News