It is gratifying to see Filipinos pull together in times of crisis.
Certainly, the eruption of Taal Volcano on Jan. 12 and its continued restiveness are a major challenge that have brought people together, with local governments coordinating with national agencies to keep their constituents safe.
The relative quiet of the volcano over the last few days, however, has encouraged some local government officials to sound a discordant—and even defiant—note, effectively wishing away the danger of a more devastating eruption in favor of allowing their constituents to return to their homes within the 14-kilometer danger zone.
More than 110,000 people have taken refuge in evacuation centers since Taal burst to life a week ago, but many hard-hit towns have let residents back for hours each day to fetch items, feed livestock and clean up their houses. This, despite the warning by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology of an imminent “hazardous eruption.”
The vice mayor of Talisay, Batangas, for example, appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte Monday to allow his constituents to return home despite the dire warnings.
In an interview on radio dzMM, Talisay Vice Mayor Charlie Natanauan criticized the Phivolcs chief, Renato Solidum, over the volcano warnings, saying he should change his “opinion” about Taal’s activity.
He said the Phivolcs chief was only making the situation worse, and that he should study it well.
“Nobody in the world has been able to predict a volcanic eruption,” he said in Filipino. “Why is he saying that? Is he God?”
He said that even if the volcano erupts, he expects the lava to stop once it hits the water "because it will get wet."
Meanwhile, Cavite Rep. Abraham Tolentino said Tagaytay City, a top tourist location largely because of its spectacular views of the volcano, said it would be “business as usual” for establishments there, despite an order from the Department of the Interior and Local Government that they stay closed as a precaution.
“As of now, we will treat it as a recommendation,” Tolentino said of the DILG order. “It’s business as usual.”
We beg to differ. It is not business as usual when the best available science—and not an “opinion”—informs us that a bigger eruption could be imminent.
Lava flows at a rate of 10 kilometers up to 60 kilometers an hour—far faster than anyone can run. Moreover, the vice mayor of Talisay might be interested to know that lava doesn’t just “stop” when it hits the water.
When lava meets the sea it cools quickly while boiling the ocean into steam. The billowing steam clouds can be deadly as they contain small glass shards of fragmented lava and acid mist from sea water. The acid mist is known as laze is potentially deadly if inhaled and can be hot and corrosive. Anyone evacuating on boats, as the vice mayor suggests, would be in peril.
And that’s not an opinion of God speaking; it’s science.