Phivolcs wants no houses in 6-km danger zone around Mayon

LEGAZPI CITY—With hunger, discomfort, food shortages and illness plaguing evacuation centers, the top official of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said he hopes no houses will be built along the 6-kilometer Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ) bordering Mayon Volcano, even if farming activities continue. The area has long been declared a “no man’s land.”

Phivolcs Director Renato U. Solidum Jr. said he hopes when Mayon again erupts, there would no longer be any houses inside the 6-km PDZ. He did not mention which agency should clear Mayon of any houses.

Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara said that with the province under a state of calamity, the funds are never sufficient to cope with the needs of the evacuees. He added he would ask the national government for support.

Latest figures showed there are now 40,565 individuals, or 10,405 families from 39 barangays in seven municipalities staying in evacuation centers, Bichara said. The evacuees were mostly from the towns of Camalig, Guinobatan, Maliipot, as well as in the cities of Tabaco and Ligao.

Cedric Daep, head of the Province Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said 13,100 evacuees were already sent home. Those evacuees live outside the expanded 7-km PDZ.

Then-President Fidel V. Ramos ordered that no residents could construct houses in Mayon’s PDZ after the 1993 eruption and relocated them with government housing assistance in the identified resettlement sites, such as Barangay Banquerohan, Legazpi City, and in Barangay Anislag in Daraga town. The 1993 eruption resulted in the creation of the multibillion-peso resettlement areas for Mayon residents affected by the PDZ.

A retired public works official said among those included in the Mayon resettlement program was the construction of permanent evacuation centers not only for Mayon residents, but for all evacuees affected by floods or typhoons. So far, no single permanent evacuation center was ever built, while the already-started resettlement housing project for Mayon residents remained in the planning stage. The retired  public works official asked why Mayon PDZ remains inhabited 25 years after. He said the government needs to publish the lists of the Mayon housing proponents.

Following the February 1993 eruption, Mayon also erupted in Septembrr 2006, in August 2008 and  in July 2009. In January 2010 Mayon erupted again and was followed in 2014 with the usual flow of evacuees from the 6-km PDZ.

During the 2014 Mayon eruption, then-Gov. Joey S. Salceda and the Phivolcs were castigated for sustaining and holding evacuees under Alert Level 3.

Salceda had always aimed for zero casualty, declaring Mayon as the most unpredictable volcano in the world.

The Mayon eruption in 1993 killed more than 80 farmers and students who skipped classes to help in their families’ harvest activities.

With more than 80 casualties at Barangay Mabinit in Legazpi during that February 1993 eruption, then- Gov. Romeo Salalima threatened to file class-action lawsuit against then-Phivolcs Director Reynaldo Punongbayan and Mayon resident volcanologist Ed Laguerta. Salalima claimed the casualties were not forewarned of the impending eruption.

The governor’s proposed class-suit against the Phivolcs, however, did not push through after President Ramos sided with Phivolcs officials by tossing the blame on the LGUs themselves. Ramos said the LGUs should not have allowed inhabitants inside the PDZ. It was the responsibility of the LGUs to enforce the law, Ramos was quoted by the media as saying.

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