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Duterte backs permanent ‘no man’s land’ around Mayon

Evacuees cook their meals at a common kitchen in an evacuation center in Miisi village, Ligao township, following the sporadic eruptions of Mayon volcano, Friday, Jan. 26, 2018, in Albay province, around 200 miles (340 kilometers) southeast of Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

LEGAZPI CITY — President Rodrigo Duterte endorsed a recommendation that villages in a danger zone around Mount Mayon be turned into a permanent “no man’s land” to avoid evacuating thousands of residents each time the country’s most active volcano explodes.

Even so, the President said the recommendation, made by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, should be studied well.

Mr. Duterte said the government might have to expropriate land from private owners, adding that such a move could spark “a social problem again.”

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“Lots of persuasions are needed with the question of money. You know how the government expropriates — really stingy or tightfisted,” he said during a meeting here on Monday with officials dealing with the two-week eruption of Mayon.

Mayon has been belching lava fountains, huge columns of ash and molten rock into the sky and plunging communities into darkness with falling ash in Albay province.

80,000 evacuees

More than 80,000 villagers have fled to dozens of schools that have been turned into emergency shelters.

Lorenzana’s proposal is complicated given that thousands of impoverished villagers have settled through the years in a government-declared 6-kilometer permanent danger zone around Mayon, where they have survived on farming for generations.

As the volcano grew more restive this month, authorities expanded the danger zone to cover more communities and forced thousands more to swarm into dozens of emergency shelters.

Lorenzana said a national park in Mayon’s shadow could be expanded around the base of the 2,460-meter volcano where trees could grow partly as a buffer to stop volcanic floodwater and mudflow from devastating nearby towns and cities.

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Areas inside the danger zone proposed to be no man’s land include Barangay Bonga in Legazpi City, six villages in Tabaco City, four villages in Ligao City, and three villages in Daraga.

While thousands have fled areas around the volcano, many villagers have sneaked back in to check on their homes, farms and animals.

Police and Army troops have struggled to turn back tourists who want a closer view of Mayon.

Asked about Lorenzana’s proposal, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said the matter was for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to look into.

Public domain

Salceda, a former Albay governor, said he would consult with Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu whether the reported titled properties under the delineated boundaries were part of the public domain.

“If the titled properties are part of the national domain, the question is ‘why have they issued titles?’ I think the DENR should cancel it,” the lawmaker said.

There are 2,800 families on the north side of Mayon whose houses and livelihood are inside the designated danger zone.

Salceda said these families were residents of Barangays Miisi and Budiao in Daraga town and Sua in Camalig town.

Permanent center

The President said he was open to a proposal for building a permanent evacuation center to free public schools being used as emergency shelters.

But he said the government had no budget for the construction of the center.

This came after Camalig Mayor Ahrdail Baldo suggested in the briefing for the President the creation of permanent evacuation centers for the displaced families.

“[T]his is not included yet in our budget. Maybe we can consider it,” Mr. Duterte answered.

Asked for comment, Salceda, who was at the briefing, said a permanent relocation site was a better alternative to building permanent evacuation centers, which he noted was costly.

Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara said a 10-hectare lot in Legazpi could be used as part of the provincial government’s initiative to permanently relocate families now in evacuation centers. —With a report from AP

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TAGS: Delfin Lorenzana, Joey Salceda, Mayon eruption, Mayon permanent relocation site, Mount Mayon, permanent no man's land, Rodrigo Duterte
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