POSTSCRIPT / January 16, 2020 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Taal victims want to feel the President

PRESIDENT Duterte has apologized for his failure to react quickly when Taal volcano belched steam on Sunday, ruptured the ground, roiled the lake waters and rained noxious ash in what could be a sign of an imminent disastrous eruption.

We hope Duterte’s saying sorry was enough. Inured to natural and man-made disasters, most Filipinos are readily assured that they would survive as long as a merciful God watches over them and their Leader is standing with them through the test.

The failure of Malacañang on Day One to make the people see, hear AND FEEL their President as the alert rose rapidly in five hours from Level 2 to Level 4 (disastrous eruption imminent) was a management disaster.

With its billions for communications and special operations, Malacañang could have tapped the magic of modern technology and electronically filled in the gap for presidential presence in the disaster area and the national capital.

From his Davao City retreat, President Duterte could have beamed early visual messages of assurance of being one with the victims and of speedy government assistance to the distressed folk in the stricken areas around Taal lake.

That initial assurance could have nipped talk that the President was so sick, bed-ridden in far-away Davao, that he could not even help himself – or worse, that he was too detached to care.

We are back to what we sometimes point out in this space about public information abhorring a news vacuum.

Malacañang propagandists, backed by trolls in social media and allies in mainstream media, could have tried focusing on other reasons for his delayed arrival, such as the airspace around Taal being unsafe for aircraft and the Manila airport having been closed.

Taal victims needed badly to feel their President. But we saw no attempt within the day of the phreatic (steam-driven) eruption to show an impatient Duterte as up and ready to rush to the national capital and the disaster area.

If the President was bed-ridden that Sunday, as many suspected, that fact need not have been hidden. Everybody gets sick, especially a septuagenarian subjected to man-killing pressures of work.

In the President’s absence from ground zero, private organizations, Good Samaritans and the volunteer group of Vice President Leni Robredo, wasted no time ministering to Taal victims in evacuation centers despite their limited resources.

Wherever the aid and relief comes from is immaterial — as long as it continues to flow efficiently, effectively, and evenly.

Unfortunately, when President Duterte finally arrived in Metro Manila the next day, he was shown addressing not Taal victims but a gathering of Marines.

The event was further marred by his giving P50,000 gifts to his soldiers celebrating their birthdays this month. Presumably, this means more money will be doled out to the military as the gifts cannot be limited to January-born soldiers.

In contrast, families whose livelihood were disrupted by Taal’s tantrums and who obviously needed more substantial relief than self-sufficient soldiers were promised only P25,000 loans that they have to pay back. Something did not compute.

It was not clear also how the President, flying in from Davao, “surveyed” the Taal area from his jet when, since Sunday when alert Level 4 was announced, “civil aviation authorities must advise pilots to avoid the air space around Taal volcano as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from the eruption column pose hazard to aircraft.”

 When Taal lake was once saltwater

AS THE WAIT continues for the “imminent” hazardous eruption of Taal volcano, we pass on these historical notes of Derrick Manas of barrio Wawa in Tanauan, Batangas, culled from the book of Thomas Hargrove on the “Mysteries of Taal”.

Through the centuries, the map of Batangas has been drastically redrawn by the violent temper flareups of Taal volcano lying deceptively serene in the middle of the lake that is actually its original caldera or crater.

Asking “Did you know that Taal used to be a saltwater lake prior to 1754?”, Manas narrates:

The huge 1754 eruption that lasted for six months from May to December that year changed the salinity of the water and transformed Taal from saltwater to a freshwater lake.

It sank five Batangas towns along its shore — Tanauan, Taal, Lipa, Bauan and a lost town that was never revived named Sala.

Batangueños started moving back and established their poblaciones away from Taal Lake. Tanauan is on its third site, Taal on its third, Bauan also on its third, and Lipa on its fifth site. Sala, which was never revived, joined Tanauan.

The Pansipit River narrowed down where once upon a time galleons could enter from Balayan Bay to Taal Lake. It gave way and formed a new piece of land blocking the mouth of the Pansipit River and that area became Lemery, Batangas, in 1861.

New islands sprouted from underneath like Napayong Island in Tanauan. This saw the appearance of such new fish species as the Maliputo and Tawilis.

Maliputo was a Trevally or Talakitok but since the lake turned freshwater, it became the Maliputo. Tawilis was a sardine that turned into a freshwater sardine trapped inside the lake when the salinity dropped.

There are fossils of old coral reefs in Taal Lake proving that once upon a time it was saltwater. The last shark sighting in Taal was in 1935.

The capital was moved later from Taal to Batangan, now called Batangas City. Since 1755, people started calling it Batangas province from Taal province, and prior to that as Balayan province, the first capital.

(From a sharing of Jorge “Jody” B. Navarra in the Pinoy ’55 chatroom on Viber)

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 16, 2020)

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