By Aaron Recuenco
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has mobilized manpower and equipment for the massive clean-up activities in the volcanic ashfall affected areas in Batangas in Cavite as hundreds of thousands of evacuees start to go back to their homes.
PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa said the move is to ensure the safety of the returning residents from health hazards from tons of ashes dumped by the Taal Volcano and physical hazards that include houses, roads and other infrastructures which the structural integrity may have been compromised due to volcanic quakes and fissures.
“The Philippine National Police joins the people of Batangas and Cavite in their joyous homecoming after being momentarily displaced for several days by an act of nature,” said Gamboa.
“The PNP will make available its personnel and resources for the massive clean-up effort that will welcome residents as they return to their homes to rebuild their lives,” he added.
Col. Edwin Quilates, director of the Batangas Provincial Police Office, said that based on the physical count he had ordered to his men, a total of 111,873 people have already returned to their homes since state volcanologists lowered the alert level from 4 to 3.
Of the figure, Quilates said that 67,621 of them were assisted by his men in the packing of personal belongings and in the transportation from evacuation centers back to their homes.
Based on the Batangas police data, a total of 25,231 people already returned home in Talisay; 23,494 from Taal; 20,771 from Mataas na Kahoy; 9,261 from Tanauan City; 6,203 from Cuenca; 6,030 from Lipa City; 5,300 from Balete; 4,585 from Lemery; 4,357 from Malvar; 3,340 from Laurel; 2,757 from Alitagtag; 354 from Sta. Teresita; and, 200 from San Nicolas.
The Batangas Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) said a total of 61,429 people remain in various evacuation centers.
“We will continue patrolling lockdown areas to maintain peace and order. We have divided the areas into quadrants and designate responsible team leader for the supervision and patrolling of these areas,” said Quilates.
“We will also maximize information campaign on the possible upgrading of current alert level,” he added.
Although the alert level was lowered, volcanologists said there is still threat of eruption of the Taal Volcano.
As part of the security measures, those within the seven-kilometer danger zone remain under lockdown. They are Barangays Bilinbiwang, Subic Ilaya and Banyaga in Agoncillo town; and, Barangays Gulod, Buso-Buso and Bugaan East in Laurel.
Although part of the mainland Batangas, the six barangays are within the seven-kilometer danger zone.
“Even as some areas within the 7-kilometer danger zone around Taal volcano remain under lockdown, a sizable contingent of PNP troops remain on the ground to assist local governments in facilitating the orderly return of residents into evacuated communities,” said Gamboa, for his part.
Gamboa also expressed gratitude to his men who have been part of the rescue and relief efforts for the evacuees.
The PNP stood shoulder to shoulder with our distressed countrymen during those trying times, and we will remain by their side on their road to complete recovery from this setback,” he said.