Mayon’s danger zone eyed as national park
MANILA, Philippines — Thousands of families living and farming within the six-kilometer permanent danger zone (PDZ) of Mayon Volcano may have to leave their lands and homes for good if the proposal of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) materializes.
OCD chief Undersecretary Ariel Nepomuceno said in a news forum on Saturday that the agency would propose to convert Mayon’s PDZ into a natural park, which would require resettling residents away from these areas.
“It’s being talked about, but the drafting [of the proposal], not yet,” he said.
The OCD, Nepomuceno pointed out, sees the natural park project as a long-term solution that would ease the burden of both national and local governments challenged by Mayon’s recurring volcanic activities that require evacuating and providing for the affected communities.
“It’s really tiresome—let us accept it—that when we evacuate people, we feed them, disrupt the studies [of the children]. The resources of the barangay, municipality and national government are drained,” he said.
As of Sunday, 5,751 families or 19,819 people have been evacuated from 26 villages within Mayon Volcano’s extended 7-km danger zone in the towns of Camalig, Guinobatan, Daraga, Santo Domingo and Malilipot, and the cities of Ligao and Tabaco.
They were brought to evacuation centers starting on June 9 when alert level 3 was raised over the volcano after it showed signs of heightened unrest, indicating it could erupt anytime.
Nepomuceno said the PDZ should have no structures or inhabitants in the first place.
In line with this, he said OCD planned to conduct thorough research on related legislation that may already be pending or existing policies for enforcement, such as the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas Act or Republic Act No. 11038. Under the law, Mt. Mayon Natural Park is one of the 94 sites declared as protected areas.
With local officials’ support
Nepomuceno claimed that the local governments affected by the Mayon’s continuing unrest have expressed their support for the development of a natural park and relocation of their residents.
“In fairness to the local government units, when we spoke to some of the mayors there, they also accepted that they have this problem. That is why our agreement is that we conduct research of related legislation that are pending or maybe there are already [laws] that they can enforce to the Department of Interior and Local Government or other agencies,” he added.
Nepomuceno said the OCD is ready to lobby with the members of Congress to push for legislation for a park development project in the area.
Last week, Albay Gov. Edcel Greco Lagman said during the Laging Handa public briefing that once Mayon’s situation has normalized, the provincial government would also consider the options of resettling to safer areas the people living around the volcano, adding that the volcano’s activity has become “perennial,” occurring every three to five years, and often draining local funds.
Lagman said the relocation could be made mandatory through legislation, and the national government could help fund housing projects for those who would be displaced.
However, he admitted it would be difficult to uproot the farming communities around the volcano that have been there for four or five generations. A “hybrid” option would be to allow the farmers to continue tilling their lands within the PDZ while residing elsewhere, he added.
Just as the OCD was considering this option, children forced to endure physical and emotional discomfort at the evacuation centers were given a respite by volunteers and the local governments in Albay through psychosocial programs and the installation of “safe spaces” for them to enjoy some physical activities.
On Sunday, the humanitarian organization Save the Children Philippines (SCP) kicked off its art intervention activities at a public elementary school in Barangay Taladong of Camalig, where about 120 children were sheltered along with their families evacuated from the town’s village of Tumpa.
The group and its partner volunteers believed that intervention was necessary, noting that it was traumatic for children to be uprooted from their own homes and made to live indefinitely in crowded evacuation centers.
Dominic Gapas, SCP’s humanitarian officer, said three simultaneous activities involving music, theater movements, and drama were conducted through their partners, the local volunteer group “Tarabang para sa Bicol” (Mutual Aid for Bicol), and the “Sining Banwa,” an Albay-based cultural group.
On Sunday afternoon, the same group held similar activities with children at the elementary school in Barangay Comun, which houses residents from Sua village.
Gapas said they would continue their sessions in other evacuation centers in the province.
Camalig also created a community building cluster, composed of local government workers, to focus on the intervention programs for the evacuees, especially the children, by engaging them in parlor games, informative talks and film showing of documentaries about volcanic eruptions, said municipal information officer Tim Lawrence Florece on Sunday.
He said they also installed tents in the town’s open spaces and green fields where children can play.
As of Saturday, Camalig has evacuated 929 families (3,242 people) from four villages within the PDZ.
In Guinobatan, a group of soldiers organized on Saturday some games, coloring sessions and gift-giving activities to 240 children housed at Barangay Mauraro’s public high school. A group of policemen was also in the same evacuation center last Wednesday to entertain the children.
“They are already bored at the evacuation centers and because of the extreme heat, their activities are limited, especially that they are in a new environment. This is a big help to alleviate the inconvenience of the displaced kids,” said Joy Maravillas, head of the disaster risk reduction and management office in Guinobatan.
Also bound for Albay to extend aid to the evacuees is the Philippine Navy’s BRP Bonifacio, which is arriving on Monday to deliver potable water for the displaced families, said Commodore Joe Anthony Orbe, commander of Naval Forces Southern Luzon, in a statement on Saturday.
Orbe said the combat ship is equipped with desalination systems and has the capability to convert salt water and produce large amounts of fresh water that would be provided to the affected residents.