Lorenzana urges Duterte: Declare Taal 'no man's land'

MANILA, Philippines – With the Taal Volcano's "hazardous" eruption still possible "within days to hours," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana urged President Rodrigo Duterte to declare the island volcano off limits to inhabitants. 

Lorenzana made the suggestion at a situation briefing in Batangas City during Duterte's visit on Tuesday night, January 14.

"Mr President, you have approved recommendations a while ago but I strongly recommend that we implement the suggestion that the Taal will be declared 'no man's land,'" Lorenzana said. The defense secretary believed this was needed to prevent further casualties in the event the Taal Volcano erupts again in the future. 

The ongoing unrest of the Taal Volcano began with a phreatic or steam-driven eruption at 1 pm on Sunday, January 12. The situation quickly progressed to a magmatic eruption as lava fountains emerged in the early hours of Monday, January 13.

As of Tuesday, the volcano remained on Alert Level 4, which means a "hazardous" eruption is "imminent" or may occur "within days to hours."

Will it be done? Duterte did not categorically say if he would pursue Lorenzana's recommendation.

Duterte went on to say an eruption cannot be predicted until there were signs of activity in a volcano and ruminated instead on the man power needed to prevent people from venturing into its danger zones. He thought the idea to be nearly impossible, again pinning its unlikelihood to drugs.

"If it's just possible that we have enough people, we'll really have the power to say just stop! Pero putang ina 'yung mga droga (But son of a bitch, these drugs)...I'll say it again for the nth time, itong mga droga – stop. Hindi ako Quiboloy, papatayin ko talaga (stop it with these drugs. I'm not [Pastor Apollo] Quiboloy, I will really kill you," he said.

President's approval: Duterte earlier expressed satisfaction with the assistance and relief provided by government agencies to affected residents.

Still, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) warned communities to take caution, saying that though the surface activity of the Taal Volcano's main crater slightly eased, there is still "continuous magmatic and hydrovolcanic activity."

Frequent volcanic earthquakes coupled with fissures or cracks likewise indicate that a "hazardous" eruption remains possible.

So far, Batangas is among the areas most affected by Taal's eruption, with the entire province placed under a state of calamity on Monday.

As of Tuesday, the number of evacuees rose to more than 38,000, many of them fearing what will happen to them, their homes, and their livelihood. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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