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Taal and the social volcano




Tonyo Cruz

Tonyo Cruz

To their credit, the people of Batangas did not project a sense of helplessness as their beloved Taal started exploding last Sunday. Taal’s huge tower of ash that could be seen in space was dwarfed by the epic manner of Batanguenos: quick and, it must be stressed, and dignified.  Everyone saw it, galawang Batangueno is chill.

To their credit too, their local governments and their local churches leaped into action to evacuate as many people as quickly and as safely as possible. The mayors and their staff were on ground. The archbishop quickly issued an Oratio Imperata and mobilized the archdiocesan social action arm.

We must thank the public scientists at the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. Their close monitoring of the situation and timely raising of Alert Level 4 saved lives. And Phivolcs continues to monitor Taal, keeps us informed of the developments, raises our basic knowledge about volcanoes, and being the geologists and rockstars they really are.

There is something different with the Taal explosion this 2020 as a natural disaster, and I think it is about the public’s response. Instead of making endless pleas for “thoughts and prayers”, the people opted to take direct action to help the people of Batangas.

The carinderias in Batangas didn’t close. They opened and gave out free meals to the hungry. We saw nameless men and women who have lots of face masks in stock somewhere reappear everywhere to give them for free. We saw photos of a mother hurriedly sewing face masks, again to be distributed for free. In a matter of days and without fanfare, we saw truckloads of fresh vegetables appear in Batangas, courtesy of farmers from Benguet. The people who survived Pinatubo hurriedly went to help the people of Taal.

Sensing a possible humanitarian crisis, the Student Regent at the University of the Philippines swiftly called for a UP System-wide relief effort. Iskolars responded. By Thursday, for instance, the UPLB Serve the People Brigade was delivering relief aid to Batangas by the truckload.

The Angkas riders who motorcaded their way to Batangas, the DLTB  bus driver who defied ash fall to pick up evacuees and bring them to safer places. RockEd was there too, as well as many independent volunteer initiatives like those led by Thysz Estrada and her friends who could not be stopped from helping. Tulong Kabataan, the disaster response program of activist groups led by Anakbayan and Kabataan Partylist, had to move to a bigger venue to better manage the huge response of donors from students. There are many similar stories.

To those who question the youth’s patriotism and readiness to serve, our response is to honor Rio Abel, Maximino Alcantara and Darwin Lajara. They are the trio of friends who perished in an accident on the way home from distributing relief goods. They were among the first to come forward, leaving the comfort of their homes to extend a helping hand to others. They’re heroes.

Back in Taal Volcano and nearby areas, PAWS, PETA and humane individuals didn’t want the animals of Batangas to be left behind. They went back to rescue as many dogs, cats, horses, chickens, cows and carabaos.

Our vice president Leni Robredo was also there to comfort the people of Batangas. Visiting evacuation centers as soon as it was practicable and not to add problems was actually enough. If the country’s highest official could not be present, we could be sure the second-highest official’s presence is appreciated.

Sure there have been problems since Sunday, starting with the president’s initial statement after the eruption. Why he chose to say he would rather eat all the volcanic ash and urinate into the crater, we don’t know. Some say the president made the outrageous statement to cover up the regime’s decision to reduce state funds for disaster response every year since 2017.

Competing with our scientists are ignoramuses among Members of Congress. One sought to haphazardly suggest cloud seeding (only to be told it could lead to acid rain), while another blasted the scientists of under-funded Phivolcs for not being psychics or fortune-tellers.

We won’t ever forget those who overpriced and hoarded N95 face masks. They are vultures.

An undersecretary, who I won’t name so as not to make her feel important, opted to make herself busy defaming activists for the “crime” of initiating their own disaster response efforts. Instead of helping or helping those who choose to help, she laughed at them and wrote sarcastically and baselessly about the activists. Who is without soul now?

A disgraced former assistant secretary who is now moonlighting in a position that gives her travel opportunities meanwhile disgraced herself anew by spreading disinformation about pandesal.  It was as if donating pandesal is wrong. Pandesal can never be wrong. It is the Filipino bread. What’s wrong is when a public official engages in fake news and hyperpartisanship amid a disaster.

All told, we are in a good position right now as we brace for whatever Taal could still do in the next days or weeks. We have opted to prioritize direct action and solidarity over “thoughts and prayers”. And we have started to veer away from the narrative of “resilience” and have instead look closely at the real issues that are arguably man-made disasters to be confronted: irresponsibility, criminal negligence, anti-science and pseudo-science, disunity, disinformation, and hyperpartisanship amid calamity.

At the time they need help the most, the people of Batangas are discovering their true friends. At a time when the people of Batangas need help, we Filipinos defy ourselves in order to help. This sense of unity and solidarity will serve us well when Taal explodes more powerfully or when the metaphorical social volcano finally erupts. ###





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