Batangas governor says classes may resume soon in areas not on lockdown

BATANGAS, Philippines – Classes may resume soon in areas that are not on lockdown due to the restive Taal Volcano, according to Batangas Governor Hermilando Mandanas.

"We are now considering – just waiting for developments until tomorrow – that we will open classes again for schools under CHED – this means colleges and universities. Hopefully, we can open also those under DepEd (elementary and secondary) by Monday," Mandanas said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon, January 21.

He stressed that this is only applicable to classes in areas outside the Taal Volcano danger zone, while the rest will have to wait until the volcano's alert level is lowered. Taal Volcano has been under Alert Level 4 since January 12.

"Kapag Alert (Level) 4 pa rin, ang CHED outside 14 kilometers p'wede na pumasok. 'Yung lower hindi pa. After Sunday, titingnan natin kung p'wede na rin kahit (Alert) Level 4, basta outside [the] 14-kilometer radius," he added.

(If it's still Alert Level 4, schools under CHED that are outside 14 kilometers can resume classes. Classes in lower levels can't resume yet. After Sunday, we will see if they can resume already despite the Alert Level 4, as long as they are outside the 14-kilometer radius.)

Areas in Batangas that are within the 14-kilometer danger zone include Agoncillo, Alitagtag, Balete, Cuenca, Laurel, Lemery, Lipa City (especially lakeside areas), Malvar, Mataasnakahoy, San Jose, San Nicolas, Santa Teresita, Taal, Talisay, and Tanauan City. 

The governor said their target is to move evacuees out of all schools within a week and transfer them to other temporary shelters

"The province will be finishing already evacuation centers which will be able to have at least 15,000 persons who are now in school buildings," he said.

Among the identified resettlement areas are the newly-built provincial rehabiitation and detention center in Barangay Malainin, Ibaan; and the 1,200-unit NHA housing project in Barangay Talaibon, also in Ibaan, built for police and soldiers. 

The housing project was never used because of some legal issues, but Mandanas said they have reached an agreement to temporarily utilize it as shelters for evacuees.

Meanwhile, the governor stands firm on his decision not to implement window hours in areas under total lockdown.

"I believe that human life is more important than animal life and plant life," he stressed.

He also announced that the provincial government is committed to buy animals from areas under total lockdown should their owners want to sell them so they can stop worrying about feeding them.

According to Mandanas, the number of evacuees from the province reached the one-million mark as of Tuesday. Of this number, 200,000 are staying in evacuation centers across Calabarzon, while the rest or 800,000 are staying outside evacuation centers. 

Mandanas said the province is now allocating a budget of P150 per evacuee per day or P150 million per day to cover the food and sanitation needs of all evacuees.

The governor remains optimistic as aid and assistance continue to pour into the province.

"Kakayanin natin ito dahil mayroon naman tayong sapat na (We will get through this because we have enough) calamity fund, bukod pa sa (aside from the) assistance from the national government, from companies and private individuals, foreign groups, and other neighboring local government units," he said.

The provincial government of Batangas, which is under a state of calamity, has a calamity fund of P200 million and a regular budget that was doubled this year to over P8 billion. 

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier also asked Congress to pass a P30-billion "supplemental budget" to provide aid for those affected by the ongoing eruption. – Rappler.com