Batangas mayors say time to change how they respond to disasters

BATANGAS, Philippines – For decades, residents of Taal, Batangas, have never evacuated due to a Taal Volcano eruption. That changed in 2020 and caused mass panic.

“Sanay ang mga taga-Taal na hindi lumilikas becasue this used to be the evacuation center. Lahat, kahit noon pang matagal na panahon. Kahit noong 1911, dito lahat. Hindi sila sanay. Ngayon lang lumikas ang taga-Taal. Even I myself, 1965 na'ndito ako, ito ang evacuation center,” said Taal Mayor Fulgencio Mercado.

(Taal residents are not used to evacuating. For the longest time, this was the evacuation center. In 1911, it was here. They’re not used to this. This is the first time that Taal residents, including myself, evacuated elsewhere. In 1965, I was here, this was the evacuation center.)

Over in the town of Agoncillo, residents were also unaware where to go when the volcano erupted. 

“We were not expecting to evacuate in a matter of hours.... What happened was, only those who went to the municipal hall were directed to evacuation centers,” Agoncillo Mayor Daniel Reyes said in Filipino.

In a matter of hours, the alert level was raised from 2 to 4 on January 12.

With the recent experiences, the League of Municipalities in Batangas convened to improve evacuation protocols. (IN PHOTOS: Despite remaining threat, Taal evacuees simply happy to be home)

A proposal was made for a system where an entire town that is threatened goes to a designated town deemed safe from the eruption.

“Pinag-uusapan namin sa League of Municipalities, in collaboration with the provincial government, na, para kung tumakbo, isa na lang ang tatakbuhan, so madali. Let’s say kung ako [sa Taal] sa Bauan, ang San Nicolas [ang pupuntahan] ay sa Batangas City, ang Laurel, kung saan man. Ganung sistema para hindi halo-halo,” Mercado said.

(We’ve been discussing this in the League of Municipalities, in collaboration with the provincial government – that when residents of one town flee, they will go to just one place, so it will be easier to track them. Let’s say, I’m from [Taal], I go to Bauan.Those from San Nicolas will go to Batangas City, those from Laurel will go wherever – that kind of system so evacuees are not scattered.)

However, whether an entire town's population can be absorbed by another remains a concern.

Reyes said the entire population of Agoncillo is roughly around 44,000 and one town might not be able to accommodate all evacuees. – Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.

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