By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat and Alexandria San Juan
The Department of Trade and Industry has issued a price freeze on basic necessities in Batangas province, which has been directly affected by the eruption of Taal Volcano.
In an advisory, DTI-Btanagas has informed all consumers and retailers that prevailing prices of basic goods are placed under automatic price control based on Section 6 of Republic Act 7581. Also known as the Price Act, it provides that prices in an area proclaimed or declared a disaster area, or under a state of calamity or emergency, shall be automatically frozen.
The price freeze followed after the Sangguniang Panlalawigan approved Resolution No 001-2020 declaring the entire province of Batangas under a state of calamity for a period not exceeding 60 days due to the effects of the eruption of Taal Volcano.
Consumers and retailers in the province are urged to follow the prevailing prices/price ceilings of BNPCs.
Basic necessities include canned sardines, processed milk, powdered milk, coffee, bread, instant noodles, salt, detergent, bottled water, and candles.
DTI noted that the Price Act provides that any retailer found selling more than the listed prevailing prices shall be imposed with an administrative fine of P5,000 up to P1 million under Republic Act No. 7581 Section 16 and the Department Administrative Order 6 series 2007 Article 6 section 2.
The DTI has urged consumers to report retailers that sell basic necessities more than the specified prices to DTI Batangas Provincial Office at tel. 043-7562330 or email at email@example.com.
Danger of explosive eruption
Meanwhile, reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide, a major gas component of magma or molten rock, were observed at Taal Volcano on Wednesday, but state volcanologists warned that the danger of an explosive eruption is still present as volcanic quakes persist and a volume of magma has reached close to the volcano’s surface.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division chief Mariton Bornas said sulfur dioxide emissions from Taal Volcano further decreased, measuring at an average of 153 tonnes per day.
This sulfur dioxide level was lower than the 344 tonnes per day measured on Tuesday and the 4,353 tonnes per day recorded on Monday.
According to the United States Geological Survey, sulfur dioxide indicates that magma is near the surface and could be a sign that the volcano will erupt soon.
However, Bornas emphasized that a reduced sulfur dioxide level for two straight days does not mean that the public is already safe from Taal’s possible explosive eruption.
“It’s possible that the SO2 is somehow being blocked, or it’s possible that the surface of the magma has degassed and the SO2 can’t be released. There are a lot of possible factors for this,” he said in Pilipino.
Bornas said they need to study the overall trend to see if there will be a continuous downfall in the gas levels for them to evaluate if the activity in Taal is already weak.
“We can’t trust in the two straight days of low SO2 levels, we need to see an overall trend of steady decline,” he said.
According to Bornas, government volcanologists are weighing all parameters, including gas emissions and volcanic quakes, every day to check if it is already acceptable to lower the alert level.
In the agency’s latest monitoring on Taal, Bornas noted that volcanic quakes recorded in the past 24 hours were “significantly weaker” compared to the days after its phreatic or steam-driven eruption on Jan. 12.
From Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning, the Philippine Seismic Network (PSN) plotted six volcanic tremors registered at magnitudes 1.5 to 2.4 with no felt event, while the Taal Volcano Network, which can record small earthquakes undetectable by the PSN, recorded 481 volcanic tremblors including eight low-frequency earthquakes also in the past 24 hours.
As these quakes persist, Phivolcs said there is still continuous magmatic intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity.
Despite a seemingly weaker activity at the surface crater of Taal where a weak emission of white steam-laden plumes reaching up to 50 to 500 meters high was observed, the state volcanology agency warned that the volcano has already “re-charged” and a new supply of magma is almost at the surface.
Not everyone can return
Should a downward trend in Taal Volcano’s activity be established in the coming weeks, Bornas said that not everyone will be allowed to return, especially those who were living on the volcano island and other high-risk areas.
“We are evaluating the possibility that Taal’s activity will diminish, and when the trend is steady, we will stand down to the next alert level. But again, we can’t say we can let everyone return,” he said in Pilipino.
Bornas said the agency will be discussing with the affected local government units (LGU) about what areas within the 14-kilometer radius zone from the volcano’s main crater will still be off-limits if the alert level goes down.
Alert Level 4
Alert Level 4, or the possibility of a dangerous explosive eruption within hours to days, remains in effect over Taal Volcano, after more than a week of its continuous spewing of steam, ash, and lava.
P100-M daily for food
At least P100 million per day is being spent for the food and water of the evacuees displaced by the eruption of the Taal Volcano, Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas said.
Mandanas said the figure was based on the assessment conducted a few days ago for some 200,000 evacuees staying in evacuation centers and approximately 800,000 others who have been staying with relatives.
“We are spending P100 a day for each of the evacuee, that includes the food and water,” said Mandanas.
“But that is for the food alone, it does not include other basic needs like soap, toothpaste and others,” he added.
Mandanas earlier disclosed that the Taal Volcano eruption had already displaced one million people, the estimate was based on the population of the areas inside the 14-kilometer danger zone.
The provincial government of Batangas is currently enforcing mandatory evacuation within the 14-kilometer danger zone which is described to be the striking distance of the ring-like cloud of intensely hot gases and volcanic materials if a base surge occurs.
Among the areas that were locked down were Talisay, Laurel, San Nicolas, Balete, Agoncillo and some areas in Lemery, Taal, Sta. Teresita, Mataas na Kahoy, Lipa City and Tanauan City.
Mandanas said that he expects that there are no more people within the danger zones as this was the strict order of the DILG.
Distribution centers of relief goods have already been set up in every town and city where evacuees are staying, Mandanas said.
The distribution centers will set up a protocol that would be followed on the distribution of relief items from the national government, provincial government and non-government organizations.
The provincial government of Batangas is currently printing distribution cards that would be given for each family.
In order to prevent double distribution, Mandanas said indelible ink would be used to identify evacuees who were already given relief goods every schedule of distribution.
“Through this, we can be sure that the evacuees will not take advantage of the relief distribution system,” said Mandanas.
Batangas has a P200 million calamity fund for this year, and another P100 million unused calamity fund last year.
He said that the figure is the standing fund of the Provincial Government. The local government is mostly banking on the donations and the funds from the national government
Since only 30 percent of the P200 million can be used at this time of the year, he said the provincial council will re-align funds to sustain the needs of the evacuees.
Two roads in Batangas within the 14-kilometer danger zone around Taal Volcano has been put on lockdown, the Department of Public Works and Highways said Wednesday.
As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, a section of the Tanauan – Talisay – Tagaytay Road in Talisay, Batangas was closed due to the lockdown as advised by the local government unit. Portions of the road were covered by ashfall and have been partially cleared.
However, the lockdown enforced in the area caused the temporary suspension of all clearing operations.
The Laurel Section of the Talisay – Laurel – Agoncillo Road was put on total lockdown with window hours from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the municipality of Talisay. The road’s Agoncillo Section, a 12-kilometer stretch in Barangay Banyaga, Agoncillo has been cleared of ashfall but was also put on total lockdown.
All road sections in Metro Manila, Regions III, and IV-B, on the other hand, remain passable to all types of vehicles.
All clearing operations have been suspended temporarily on areas within the 14-kilometer radius danger zone but all deployed personnel and equipment are on standby to resume rescue and clearing operations while clearing of ashfall, hauling of ashes, and pruning of trees on road sections continue outside the 14-kilometer radius danger zone.
Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar said that in the meantime, a total of 499 personnel and 103 equipment are deployed in Batangas to provide necessary assistance, including transportation of relief goods to evacuation centers of areas affected. (With reports from Aaron Recuenco and Betheena Unite)