‘No time yet to be complacent’
By Mar S. Arguelles LEGAZPI CITY --- The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has reiterated its warning to residents here to be more vigilant and not to be complacent after Mayon volcano’s eruptive activity was reported to have slowed down during the past few days. Renato Solidum in an interview said the volcano’s eruptive activity had been consistently exhibiting continuous lava flow and fountaining, pyroclastic flows, earthquakes, increased sulfur dioxide emission and bulging at the edifice. Solidum said, “so far the volcano has emitted 70 million cubic meters of lava since it erupted on Jan. 13.” He stressed that the large volume of lava that was expelled was due to an open vent at the volcano’s crater. The effused high volumes of lava had crept and advanced 3.2, 4.5 and approximately 3 kilometers down the Miisi, Bonga-Buyuan and Basud channels, respectively. Solidum clarified news reports published in broadsheets saying that the volcano is waning, that its activity is slowing down, “they are over-interpreting what we are reporting, never in our bulletins said that the volcano’s activity has been on a downtrend.” He said aside from the visual observation, another important aspect is the result of the instruments recording aactivities inside the volcano. The past several days’ visual observation was hampered by heavy clouds that covered the volcano but Phivolcs instruments detected that large volume of lava continuously flowed; it also recorded earthquakes and tremors signifying that magma is building up and intruding the volcano’s vent. Solidum said there are two scenarios expected to happen: first, the volcano as it is now, will continue to exhibit lava fountaining events, ash plumes, lava flow, pyroclastic flows; and second, blockade over the volcano or gas pressure and magma buildup will trigger a big explosion. “So far the first scenario is prevailing in Mayon’s eruptive state,” Solidum said. Lowering of Alert Status Solidum said consistently all parameters for Alert Level 4 status remain in effect due to the continuous lava and pyroclastic density being coughed out by the volcano. “As long as magma is advancing and flowing at the crater summit and our instruments indicate that the volcano is still on the eruptive stage, Alert Level 4 will remain hoisted,” he said. To say that the volcano is in a downtrend, it needs further observation and instrument detection as the volcano may be quiet but is actually gathering energy for another eruptive episode, Solidum explained. Phivolcs bulletin for the past 24-hour observation period said the volcano exhibited sporadic to near continuous lava fountaining, lava flow and degassing episode that generated a steam-laden ash plume up to 400 meters high. Lava fountaining was accompanied by rumbling sounds audible within 10 kilometers of the summit crater. As Alert Level 4 remains in effect, the public is advised not to venture into the 8-kilometer extended danger zone. Meanwhile, Francis Tolentino, Mayon Crisis chief, gave a passing mark to national government agencies in Bicol that were designated as camp managers to assist the 9 local governments units affected by the ongoing Mayon volcano eruption. Tolentino, when asked how he would assess the performance of the various camp managers, gave a grade of 7.5 from a scale 1 to 10 based on a set of work performance targets agreed upon among the camp managers. Tolentino admitted though that some agencies were slow in meeting their target because of constraints, such as delay in the release of funds, lack of personnel, and the strict procurement requirements. Tolentino cited as performance backlogs: the constructions of 354 new Temporary Learning Spaces (TLS) of which 158 or 45 percent are yet to be constructed. Tolentino said he requested the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) engineering division to assist the Department of Education in constructing the hundreds of TLS still to be built. The government would be spending P30M for the construction of a total of 354 TLS. Other projects that need to be addressed is the construction of communal kitchen in various evacuation shelters. Tolentino said he has asked Pres. Duterte and consulted with Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno for the suspension of the government procurement regulation in areas stricken by calamities specifically in Albay due to crisis wrought by Mayon eruption. Tolentino cited a provision where the government suspended the procurement regulation in times of national emergencies. He said “this exemption could apply in the case of Albay where thousands of families were displaced due to the danger posed by the volcanic eruptions.” “With the exemption, national agencies can buy commodities or build and repair facilities to be used in disaster relief without submitting the usual regulatory requirements to the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB). Tolentino said that disaster responding agencies such as the Departments of Social Welfare, Education, Health, Public Works and Highway, Environment, and the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) reported target backlogs due to the delay in the release of their Quick Response Fund (QRF).