House urged to probe gov’t response to Taal's eruption

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 14) — A lawmaker has urged the House of Representatives to look into the disaster response and contingency efforts of government agencies following the eruption of Taal Volcano over the weekend, according to a copy of his resolution released Tuesday.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga on Monday filed House Resolution 643 directing the appropriate House committee to conduct an investigation in aid of legislation into Taal’s eruption as “losses in terms of life and property are still unaccounted for.”

Barzaga's resolution said there is “an imperative need to determine the necessary improvements” in the responses of the different government agencies such as the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology,  the Philippine National Police, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, and local governments to reduce the risks of natural disasters.

The lawmaker addressed Phivolcs in particular about the timeliness of communicating necessary information on volcanic hazards and making real time warnings of Taal's volcanic activity.

“Although we recognize the challenges of the Phivolcs, there should still be an investigation if it has conducted comprehensive monitoring, its use and availability of monitoring equipment and if it has the technical expertise to make a timely forecast of the Taal Volcano eruption,” the resolution read.

It added that Phivolcs “clearly” lacked effort in dissemination of information of Taal’s volcanic activity to the general public, especially to those living in the nearby cities and municipalities of Cavite, Laguna, and Batangas.

“Whereas, as early as 11am of 12 January 2020, when the Taal Volcano is already manifesting an increase in volcanic activity, there are no news bulletins or SMS alerts from the Phivolcs and other concerned government agencies,” the resolution read.

The House will also look into the permanent settlement in Taal Volcano Island even when it has already been categorized as a permanent danger zone prior to the recent eruption.

In a separate briefing in the afternoon, Phivolcs said they are open to any investigation by the government about the performance of their duties.

“It is within the purview of every government official to check or to see if we are performing iorjobs well. Pagdating po sa performance, all inquiries are welcome,” said Ma. Antonia Bornas, Phivolcs Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division chief.

“We take our job seriously. Alam natin especially for Taal knowing what we know knowing what this volcano is capable of….hindi po talaga natinag ang ating pagbabantay sa bulkang ito. Talagang ganoon lang po ang nangyayari, masyadong mabilis ang escalation ng activity,” she added.

[Translation: We take our job seriously. We know especially for Taal, knowing what we know, knowing what this volcano is capable of…our team has always monitored this volcano. But that’s how it really is, the escalation of the activity was too fast.]

Sellers jacking up prices on masks, food should be charged

Barzaga added that those who have been selling face masks, food and other supplies at an “unreasonable cost” amid the calamity should face charges.

“Appropriate charges need to be filed to those unscrupulous persons who sold face masks and other food and supplies at an unreasonable cost during these times of disaster,” he said.

READ: Duterte vows to give free masks amid reports of overpricing 

The local government of Manila has received complaints that N95 masks were being sold for ₱200, from the previous ₱30.

With ash reaching nearby areas, health officials have advised the public, particularly those near Taal, to use an N95 respirator face mask, which protects against 95 percent of airborne particles.

House will create rehab plan for Taal-affected areas

The House will also create a comprehensive rehabilitation plan to help the cities and municipalities in Batangas, Cavite, and Laguna recover from their losses.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said that he has appointed House disaster management committee chair Lucy Torres of Leyte to coordinate with other committees in the lower chamber such as the agriculture, tourism, and trade and industry panels to address rehabilitation plans following Taal’s heightened seismic activities.

“A comprehensive rehabilitation plan will entail funding, logistical and operational support from various national government agencies. Different House committees and relevant government agencies as well as other urban planning experts can work on this plan to ensure that it is disaster-resilient and sustainable,” Cayetano said.

The 2020 General appropriations Act allocates a total of ₱16 billion for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund.

Of this amount, ₱3.3 billion goes to aid and relief and rehabilitation services to communities affected by calamities and ₱4.2 billion allocated for repair and reconstruction of permanent structures including capital expenditures.

The DSWD told CNN Philippines that they have a stockpile of relief goods available, but private institutions are encouraged to cooperate with the government to manage donations to those affected by the eruption.

The Phivolcs has raised Alert Level 4 over Taal Volcano, after it showed a marked unrest Sunday afternoon, indicating that it may generate a “hazardous explosive eruption” soon.