Pinatubo’s unrest stirs fear in town worst-hit by lahar in 1991 eruption
BACOLOR, Pampanga, Philippines — Gelacio Angeles and Veronica Imperial have a common prayer these days. Interviewed separately, they said: “Ali ne sa mamakbung pasibayu (I hope Mt. Pinatubo won’t erupt again).”
Both were reacting to the March 4 advisory of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) that raised the volcano’s alert level from zero (calm) to 1 (low-level unrest) due to the series of earthquakes in the area.
According to Phivolcs, at least 1,722 “imperceptible,” or not easily noticed earthquakes, have occurred beneath the Pinatubo edifice since Jan. 20. Some of the earthquakes from Jan. 20 to Jan. 26 ranged between magnitude 1 and 2.5 at depths of 15 to 28 kilometers, it said.
But state volcanologists said these seismic activities were not signs of an imminent eruption.
Despite this, Angeles and Imperial admitted that thoughts of the June 15, 1991 eruption and the succeeding lahar flows during monsoon rains and typhoons stirred some sense of fear in them.
Mt. Pinatubo straddles the provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac and Zambales in Central Luzon. It destroyed P12 billion worth of crops, infrastructure and personal property from 1991 to 1992.
Since the volcano’s summit is located 39 km northwest of Bacolor, rains washed down lahar via the Pasig-Potrero River and buried its 21 villages, except Calibutbut.
In the worst lahar event on Oct. 1, 1995, Angeles lost three homes and savings he built by working as a landscaper abroad.
Imperial, a social worker, counseled residents who found it difficult to adjust after losing properties bought by hard work.
To this day, the half-buried San Guillermo Church serves as a reminder of the Bacolor tragedy.
Efforts to rehabilitate the lahar-covered lands would be at stake this time, Angeles said.
Several associations of farmers in the town have revived their farms, planting cash crops like rice, cassava and vegetables.
“Bacolor is now hospitable to agriculture,” he said.
The Duterte administration has been supporting the Bacolor Rehabilitation Plan legislated by Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales during the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
More than P2 billion worth of infrastructure is being built in the town.
Gonzales said the preparation for another eruption should be integrated in the plan.
On high ground
“Bacolor sits on a high place. It’s not likely that we will be affected by lahar,” Mayor Eduardo Datu told the Inquirer on Tuesday as he tried to calm residents.
He said the town now lives true to its old name, Baculud (on high ground).
Despite the extraordinary resilience of its people, they remain dispersed. The disaster decimated its population from 67,225 to 13,097, with residents relocating to resettlement sites en masse.
Several people have returned, increasing the number of the town’s inhabitants from 25,238 in 2007 to 31,508 in 2010. To date, 42,189 Bacoloreños still live in at least 10 resettlements.
“The focus should be on delivering social services and responding to the pandemic while concerned agencies monitor the Pinatubo situation,” Datu said.
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