BATANGAS, Philippines – Anxious residents of Barangay Janopol Occidental in Tanauan City, Batangas, pleaded with police and soldiers at a checkpoint going into their village on Wednesday morning, January 22. They were asking for a reprieve from a total lockdown that they said caught them by surprise.
Whereas they used to be able to enter the village and return home for 3 hours each morning and afternoon ever since Taal Volcano started erupting on January 12, a new order from city hall completely bars them from going back in.
The lockdown of lakeside parts of Batangas and neighboring Cavite province is meant to protect villagers from this eventuality. For many villagers, however, the more pressing concern is to secure their homes, belongings, and livestock that they left behind.
When Jonathan Mirafuentes arrived on his motorcycle at the checkpoint, he was visibly upset. He had just come from his graveyard shift as a security guard at an establishment on Mount Makiling in neighboring Laguna province, and he couldn't understand why he wasn't allowed to check on his house.
"My stuff in the house are gone. The TV is gone. Our door was broken into. The padlock is gone. It was chained. My wife went home yesterday, see. I've just come from work. I was on duty. I guard another company's property, but my own house, I cannot look after," lamented Mirafuentes, as he tried to convince a police officer to let him past the checkpoint.
Then, the barangay captain, Albert Dalisay, stepped forward and spoke to Mirafuentes in a rather stern voice. He, too, was frustrated.
"Haven't I told you everything the government said, that you should leave our barangay? Although it's ours, we can't have our way because we're being sent away for our own good. I also left behind so many animals, a pregnant pig, back home. I can't go in, too. You're worried about stuff. As for me, it's a pig back there. It will die there. I'll feed it to dogs if they want it. No one wants it. No one would buy it. So don't push it. Don't make a scene. Just go your way," he told Mirafuentes off.
As Mirafuentes stepped away grumbling, Dalisay walked up to him. It looked like it was going to be a full-blown fight.
"Don't give me that attitude!" Dalisay, who was older, barked at Mirafuentes.
Soldiers and policemen stepped in and asked Dalisay to pull back. Mirafuentes hopped on his motorcycle and sped off to the evacuation center where he and his family were staying.
Villagers who arrived before sunrise were able to go in because the full lockdown order had not yet been relayed to the checkpoint then.
Those who arrived later could only watch as their neighbors emerged onboard cars and tricycles clutching some last few items before they are indefinitely barred from their homes.
A few trucks drove past, carrying goats or horses.
Jaymark Marqueses got to the checkpoint a little too late only because he first picked grass to feed his family's 5 cows.
Ash from Taal Volcano now covers the cows' pasture, and there isn't any clean water around for them to drink. Their survival is dependent on members of the family visiting each day with water and fresh grass for them.
Unable to haul off their cows, Marqueses worries that the lockdown would starve their livestock, in which the family had invested a small fortune.
"We are risking our lives just to save our livestock because we didn't just take them from nowhere. We raised and cared for them. We raised capital to buy those cows."
As they count the days shacking up with relatives or at evacuation centers all over the provinces affected by the volcano, the villagers pine for their homes that represent a way of life that was suddenly snatched from them.
"Just walking here makes me tremble. Makes me tear up. We really left everything," said Jackie Lizardo, a grandmother who has lived all her life in Barangay Janopol Occidental.
She stood beside a soldier, who was candid enough to tell Rappler that he does understand how the villagers must be feeling, and how cruel it seemed to keep them away from their homes, but their orders are to preserve lives above all.
Watching an army truck park in the middle of the road to her village – to close it off from the rest of the world – Lizardo came to a realization.
"If it really happens, if the volcano does blow, then we won't have a home to return to at all." – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.