No laughing matter
Photos and stories out of the evacuation centers in Batangas, where an estimated one million folks have sought shelter from the fiery and ashy tantrums of Taal Volcano, can elicit laughs even from the hardest of hearts.
There was that “pictorial” of Batangueño men, long-known for being “barako” or hyper-masculine, parading their stuff in hilarious outfits they dug out of piles of donated clothes. If men in backless evening gowns, a Girl Scout uniform, or a public school teacher’s outfit don’t tickle your funny bone, then surely the macho bride in all his finery will raise a smile.
But the funniest item came courtesy of Talisay Vice Mayor Charlie Natanauan who claimed that Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) head Renato Solidum was airing merely his “opinion” when he insisted that the lockdown on towns in Taal’s danger zone should remain in force. “Is he God?” the public official wanted to know of Solidum and his colleagues, little realizing that he, Natanauan, had even less qualifications to pontificate on the matter. Solidum and his staff only had their entire professional lives and records to show for their expertise. Natanauan only had his electoral win—as well as the “stories” he said he imbibed from his father and elders—to back up his insistence that his town was safe.
Philvolcs’ Mariton Bornas, chief of its volcano monitoring and eruption prediction division, offered some consolation to the upset vice mayor. “With all due respect…” Bornas said, “we can understand that he is under so much stress. We would like to respect his feelings.” But, Bornas added, the scientists in Phivolcs “are firm in our science. We are doing our best. We are working doubly hard so we can give them the best information.”
After all, the mandate of Phivolcs is limited to the observation and study of the country’s many volcanoes, trying its best to “predict” an eruption which is still impossible, and continue monitoring the signs and signals of deadly activity. It is up to national and local government officials, including Natanauan, to listen and respond to the Phivolcs’ findings, prepare contingency plans to save lives and provide for the long-term care of evacuees.
It was thus extremely irresponsible for Rep. Abraham Tolentino of Tagaytay to declare that the city government would “defy” the order of the Department of the Interior and Local Government to close commercial establishments in Tagaytay while a deadly eruption was imminent.
Tolentino’s wife Agnes is the current Tagaytay city mayor, while Sen. Francis Tolentino, who had also served multiple terms as mayor, is his brother. Tagaytay is thus their political bailiwick, so their insistence on returning the popular resort and “wedding” city to what it was before alert level 4 was raised brings with it suspicions of self-interest on their part.
Tagaytay is home to at least 285 restaurants, 64 roadside eateries, and 56 hotels, many of them located along the ridges overlooking Taal Volcano and Taal Lake. The economic stakes cannot be downplayed, including the livelihoods of not just the establishment owners but also of all their employees, plus those on the periphery of economic activity, the small sari-sari store owners, caretakers of vacation homes, vendors of peanut brittle and piping-hot bulalo.
But saving lives is or should be the primary goal of officialdom. True, Tagaytay, located high on the ridges around the lake, is too far to be inundated by possible lava flows and projectiles. Indeed, city officials say they plan to hold a huge Chinese New Year party involving all commercial establishments in the city to signal the “rebirth” of Tagaytay. But imagine if Taal would choose to join in on the fiery celebrations. Not only would it put thousands of possible patrons and tourists in the path of danger, but the congested roads would also make it extremely difficult for first responders and emergency vehicles to come to the aid of people in the literal line of fire.
Sometimes, officials must rethink their policies and statements, however unintentionally funny—or dangerous—they may be.
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