Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face


And other “thoughts” should complete this piece’s title.

The Philippine archipelago is in the Pacific Ring of Fire, so one of our active volcanoes, Mount Bulusan in Sorsogon, is still in eruption mode and spreading ashfall on the province and beyond. Volcanologists haven’t declared it is over. Oh, but not to ignore eruptions of the “third kind,” to borrow words from ufologists, that are emanating from so-called political and social volcanoes that rock our everyday lives.


The longest English volcanic-eruption-related medical word ever coined, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, comes to mind again.

I was a kid when I first encountered the word in a publication with trivia in it. I hastily memorized the word by splitting it into several words. I also let its sound hang in my mind, the way I do now in memorizing phone numbers or remembering the plate numbers of erring motorists before I could grab a pen and paper while I am driving—among the memorizing calisthenics I employ. The word is a mouthful. On paper, it is hard to photograph with the mind’s eye, but when memorized as components, it stays better. Try it.


Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, or silicosis, is a lung disease caused by inhalation of very fine, sharp silicate particles that injure the lungs. Volcanic eruptions and ashfalls are not always to blame. Hazardous industries such as quarrying, mining, brick manufacturing, and some processes in construction can cause silicosis. Pulmonologists should know if volcanic eruptions hereabouts every so often make many people prone to silicosis. But now, with COVID-19 still hanging around, most people have, in their pockets, protective face masks that serve several purposes, including committing crimes in high places.

It is good to know that after Mount Bulusan’s first blast, a team from the Office of the Vice President hit the ground running to bring aid to displaced families. Vice President Leni Robredo, in the remaining days of her vice presidency, has not stopped caring and ministering to the needy, notwithstanding the paid bashers and hecklers of the vicious kind. It seems the job contracts of these lowlifes have not yet expired. Like flies, they swoop down on terse posts on social media that seem to be meant to trigger hateful comments from their kind. What toxic delight it is for them.

And just when we thought Mount Bulusan was done, another blast some days ago sent people scampering back to the evacuation centers. The latest news report was that many people, children especially, are stricken with respiratory maladies that could have been caused, if not made worse, by the ashfall.

Volcanic eruptions have become part of the lives of Filipinos long before Mount Pinatubo’s world-class 1991 eruption. Pinatubo hastened the departure of the US Air Force from Clark Air Base. Its effects were felt for more than a decade, changing the landscape of Pampanga, Bataan, and Zambales, and the way we regarded the hardy indigenous inhabitants of Pinatubo’s foothills, the Aetas.

But while the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology is “principally mandated to mitigate disasters that may arise from volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis and other related geotectonic phenomena,” it does not address the medical and health consequences. It is the Department of Health, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and other related government agencies that must deal with the impact on human lives. And in the long term, even the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources and of Agriculture, too.

What a different kind of disaster a volcanic eruption is. Think Taal Volcano, which still exhibits restiveness every now and then. Think Kanlaon in Negros Occidental, which has been made into a symbol of the so-called social volcano and class divide in Sugarlandia. Think Mayon in Albay, the most majestic of them all, which drives poets and peasants into paroxysms of joy.

Mount Hibok-Hibok in Camiguin Island (of lanzones festival fame), whose last eruption was in 1953, will surely make a cinematic display when it erupts. I have been in Camiguin and I cannot imagine what it would be like for the islanders when the earth begins to move again. The whole island, I am told, is the volcano, or the volcano is the whole island. Whatever, when the time comes that the island heaves and throws up plumes of fire and sand, it would, indeed, be a spectacle that is difficult to endure, a time to flee to the sea but also, uh, a selfie moment.



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