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Areas declared under ‘no man’s land’ near Mayon, is man’s land

By Manuel T. Ugalde

LEGAZPI CITY --- The government spending to free the no man’s land for decades around Mayon that encompasses the 6-kilometer Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ) appears in papers only, citing thousands of families being evacuated every eruption, worse including thousands of domesticated animals.

And what is inside the Mayon no man’s land that residents keep coming back after eruptions, amid Phivolcs warning that Mayon is the most active among the country’s volcanoes, however, erratic that it may erupt anytime without a warning, citing the major eruption in 1993 that killed 79 people inside the PDZ.

In 2017, a virtually unnoticed road projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways around Mayon was exposed by the Save Mayon Mountaineers Group and the Department of Environment and Natural resources, sans a permit. The Save Mayon Group said the project formed part of the projected P7 billion proposed Mayon circumferential road that was initially started at the first district of Albay. The Save Mayon Group complained that the road project would only invite more inhabitants into the PDZ.

WITH the heightened volcanic activity of Mt. Mayon, more than 10,000 individuals are expected to be evacuated on Thursday morning from areas covered by the 6-kilometer permanent danger zone (POZ).

Then Ako Bicol Party list 2nd nominee Rodel Batocabe admitted before the media that the proposed project was intended as a tourist attraction adding it will be fully covered with lightings. It was not pushed through following resistance in the social media from Albay residents, including those in abroad who complained it would only ruin the natural beauty of the volcano. The Bicol tourism office claimed it had no idea about the proposed project.

Two days after the forced evacuation on Friday (June 8) following Phivolcs issuance of Alert level 3 on Mayon volcano, the provincial government declared more than 4,000 families inside the Mayon PDZ had to be relocated in various municipal and city evacuation centers. A few days later, Gov. Greco Lagman announced more than 10000 livestock such as carabaos, cows and hogs needs to be evacuated in designated livestock centers, to prevent residents from returning while Mayon remain in unstable situation.

For months, the Philippine Institute of Volcanologists and Seismology had placed Mayon under Alert level 1. On June 5, Phivolcs raised the alert level to 2, then to alert level 3, hree days later on June 8, with warning of possible eruption in a few days or weeks.

On June 11, Phivolcs Director Teresito Bacolcol announced that Mayon is the most active and erratic volcano adding that residents in 30 villages are being considered for evacuation with the possibility of raising the alert level to 4. Phivolcs reminded of a major eruption in 1993 that killed 79 farmers inside the PDZ. The 1993 eruption did not register any inch of the volcano instability at the Mayon Monitoring Station when it suddenly erupted 12:30 high noon under an excellent weather condition.

According to Congressman Elizaldy Co of Ako Bicol Party List, the once recorded 10 years eruptions interval is no longer observed by Mayon, citing the 1993 eruption, 9 years after a major eruption in Sept. 1984. The 1993 eruption was followed in year 2000, 2006, 2009, 2014, and 2018. Because of this breach in eruption interval, we can no longer speculate on the Mayon instability period, adding more relocation sites, housing assistance, and livelihood source would eventually clear the PDZ.

Bacolcol explained that under alert level 3, Mayon is having what he calls effusive eruptions which is slow and silent, adding he was considering evacuations of residents from 30 villages, comprising 4 villages in Tabaco City, 4 in the towns of Malilipot, 4 in Sto. Domingo, 4 in Camalig, 1 in Daraga, 1 in Bacacay, 4 in Guinobatan, 1 in Ligao City, and 5 in Legazpi City.

Mayon has recorded more than 30 eruptions the most disastrous of which was in 1814 which killed 12,000 residents during the six hours eruption period that buried the Cagsawa Church in Barangay Busay, Daraga town.

As an active volcano, for decades long it was declared a no man’s land covering the 6-km radius, however, never Mayon PDZ was ever emptied with inhabitants, citing the presence of regularly cultivated farms, attended animals, and the presence of dwellings as proof of human activities. Phivolcs reiterated that any human activity is prohibited inside PDZ.

It will be recalled that during the 1993 major eruption that killed 79 farmers who were planting and harvesting crops inside the no man’s land, then Gov. Romeo Salalima -- with authority from the provincial board -- had filed a class suit against then Phivolcs Director Raymundo Punongbayan, for failing to warn residents about the impending Mayon eruption. Gov. Salalima strongly condemned Phivolcs neglect and incompetence that resulted to the death of 79 farmers and injured hundreds absence of warning from Phivolcs. He said the neglect of Phivolcs to issue warning, also failed the province to evacuate residents inside the 6-kilometer PDZ.

Punongbayan explained, however, that not an inch of Mayon abnormality was recorded in its Mayon Monitoring Equipment, admitting the weather at that time was even so excellent when the sudden strong eruption occurred.

Punongbayan asserted that all Mayon activities whether leading to eruptions or not have all registered in their monitoring stations that immediately follows the issuance of alert level status, except the 1993 eruptions. He however said that LGUs were aware of continuous Phivolcs reminder that the 6-km PDZ stays and remain a no man’s land.

President Ramos even castigated the governor and Albay executives for neglecting duties in prohibiting residents entering the Mayon declared no man’s land. “It’s the responsibility of the local executives to empty the PDZ that is why it was called a no man’s land,” Ramos was quoted as saying when interviewed by the media.

According to Congressman Co, the AKO Bicol Party List had proposed in 2017 the construction of Mayon circumferential road as part of tourism attraction, saying the project if realized would boost the country tourism industry. He said the road would certainly help in preventing and monitoring personalities entering the no man’s land, and that evacuation of residents during eruption would be manageable. He said that following the 1993 eruption, President Ramos had built relocation sites and housing in Legazpi City and Daraga town for the residents inside Mayon PDZ but these was not enough.

For her part, Mayor Krisel Lagman Luistro of Tabaco City, said that Mayon eruption is a costly undertaking no matter how prepared LGUs on preparation for evacuation, compared under other disasters such as typhoons where evacuees last briefly for a day or 2. She said under Mayon eruption, LGUs had to cope up attending evacuees needs in packed evacuation centers usually for months lasting between 2 to 3 months. She admitted that the PDZ remains inhabited because it’s a source of livelihood of residents.

It will be recalled that a former DPWH assistant regional director Oscar Cristobal had once said that he had attended a meeting with local officials in Albay as representative of DPWH where JICA representatives came to the country more than 2 decades ago to donate a typhoon-proof evacuation centers in cities and selected municipalities following the 1993 Mayon eruption. The Japanese International Cooperating Agency (JICA) had offered to build typhoon proof evacuation centers that would house Mayon and typhoons evacuees, complete with water facilities, toilets, so that schools tapped as evacuation centers won’t be affected and classes continue. For decades, schools serve as evacuation centers during typhoons and Mayon eruptions at the mercy of students and evacuees pathetically suffering in packed designated evacuation centers. Report said JICA was only asking at least a minimum 3,000 square meter of lot donations from LGUs concern, however, nothing had come out from the proposal as no one reportedly offered to donate, said Cristobal.

Asked why no takers, Cristobal said maybe because the construction of the facilities would be done no less by the Japanese government themselves. A source disclosed that JICA wanted to build a corruption-free evacuation centers that could withstand strong typhoons.

Former Albay governor now Ligao city mayor Fernando Gonzales said he was not the governor when the said JICA proposed typhoon proof evacuation centers was offered. “Its about time the issue of evacuation centers be addressed including relocations of residents inside the Mayon no man’s land. “Imagine we need to relocate thousands of families from Mayon PDZ every Mayon eruption, including more than 10000 animals? Gonzales lamented, adding there were eruptions that evacuees reached to a hundred thousand to include residents at the extended 7 and 8 kilometers danger zone.

Congressman Co who is the chairman of the Congress Appropriation Committee said the government should provide more relocation sites and source of livelihood for residents inside the PDZ.


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