BATANGAS, Philippines – At first look, a private resort in Batangas City seemed like it's operating at its peak, with close to 50 cottages full for the day.
Except that Innland Resort is not packed with swimming excursionists but evacuees who fled their homes after Taal Volcano started erupting. (READ: Taal Volcano's 2020 eruption: What we know so far)
Richard Panganiban, 39, was looking for an evacuation center to stay in with his wife and 4 kids the day after Taal Volcano started erupting. From Laguile village in the proud town of Taal, Panganiban drove, with a car he had borrowed, more than 25 kilometers to reach Batangas City.
Upon reaching the sports complex in the city, he was told "puno na po (it's already full)," as it has already taken in the most number of evacuees in the province. He was asked instead to go to the nearby village Libjo to take their chances.
"Meron pong nagrekomenda doon sa amin na babae, tatlo. Ang sabi sa amin, 'Sumama na kayo sa amin kung wala kayong mapuntahan.' 'Di po kami nagdalawang isip, kasi gusto ko ma-safe pamilya ko. Eh 'di ginawa ko po, sumama po ako. Dito po kami dinala," Panganiban said.
(There were 3 women who asked us, 'Come with us if you don't have anywhere to go.' I didn't think twice. I want my family to be safe. We went with them, and they brought us here.)
'Luckier than others'
Panganiban and more than 40 families are currently housed in the resort's cottages made of steel. To keep it private, the resort provided the families with tarpaulin as makeshift walls.
On the day they evacuated, Panganiban's family only brought the following with them: clothes, a tank of gasul, and a stove for cooking. When they go home, they'll have more than what they had brought with them.
"Dali-dali silang inintindi kami. Inasikaso. Binigyan ng pagkain, gamit, banig, kumot, kulambo. Kung anu-ano po. Lahat ho ng wala sa'min, binigay po sa'min," Panganiban said, as he recounted their first day at the resort.
(We were immediately attended to. They accommodated us. They gave us food, things, mat, blanket, mosquito net, and others. Everything that we didn't have, they gave us.)
Photo by Franz Lopez/Rappler
Despite the disaster, Panganiban still found himself luckier than others. He said that his children enjoyed playing at the playground, and that there are decent shower rooms for around 350 people staying in the resort.
"Buti nga po nakapunta kami dito, libre pagkain. Ang iba nga po, walang makain. Wala pa hong trabaho, wala pong matirhan," Panganiban said.
(We're glad we went here, where food is free. Others don’t have anything to eat. They don’t have work and a place to live.)
Still, Panganiban has a lot of things to worry about. He said that he was able to visit their home over the weekend and found massive cracks everywhere. (READ: 'Steady' emission, cracks widen as Taal Volcano stays under Alert Level 4)
In Taal, he left his chickens, as well as a truck and a jeepney he was repairing. With the municipality on total lockdown, Panganiban can't visit his home anymore.
"Eh ako raw muna bahala dahil siyempre, wala po akong magagawa. Inabot po ng trahedya eh," he said. (I'll take care of it, of course, but I can't do anything. A tragedy struck.)
Open for evacuees indefinitely
Elvira Molate, the owner of Innland Resort, said she started taking in people who fled their homes the day after Taal Volcano started erupting.
"Meron kasing isang pamilya na nakita namin na biglang pumasok dito. Makikita mo sitwasyon nila – talagang medyo may mga abo sa katawan, walang mga dala. Isang pamilya lang 'yun na nakikiusap na alam nilang ito ay private kahit daw sila ay magbayad basta mapatuloy lang sila," Molate said.
(There's a family who suddenly went here. You'll see their situation – they have ash on their body, and they don't have anything with them. That's just one family who asked us, even if they know it's private, that they will pay as long as they're allowed to stay here.)
Molate didn't ask them to pay. After that, they started taking in more evacuees until their resort was full.
State volcanologists said that the threat of a major explosion remains possible within "hours, days, or weeks." It goes without saying that evacuees cannot return to their homes while the volcano remains under Alert Level 4.
Photo by Franz Lopez/Rappler
Molate and her family are not thinking of letting the evacuees go anytime soon. For them, the current situation of their kababayans is more important than what they can earn from the resort.
"Hindi pa naman kami dumarating sa punto na kami ay paalisin sila. Sa ngayon, pakiramdam namin na wala pa naman kami sa iniisip na 'yon. At kami ay umaasa sa Panginoon na sana matapos ito at sana hanggang sa matapos kami ay kasama nila," Molate said.
(We haven't reached the point that we have to let them go. At this time, we feel that we're not thinking about it. And we're praying to the Lord that this ends soon and when it happnes, we're still with them.)
At least 11 towns in Batangas are on total lockdown, with the interior department ordering a stop to visiting hours to danger zones around the restive Taal Volcano.