By Manny Villar
I remember as an elementary student, one of the things that made me proud of our country was Mayon volcano. My teacher would show us a picture of the majestic Mayon and teach us geography at the same time, telling us it is located in the province of Albay and is the pride of the Bicol region. Mayon volcano is known for its perfect cone which makes it appear sublime and imperious.
But Mayon is also one of the most active volcanos in the world, having erupted over 49 times in the past 400 years. In recent days, Mayon has put on a spectacular show of violent eruption belching out columns of ash and discharging lava flows that illuminate the dark skies of Albay.
The fury of Mayon has placed residents in extreme danger and has forced almost 90,000 of our kababayans to leave their homes and stay in evacuation centers. It has disrupted the lives of people living around it and while there is no final report yet, it certainly has a negative impact on the livelihood of our people. I commiserate with Bicolanos who were displaced and have suffered because of the volcanic eruption.
I am glad that government, civil society, and the private sector have joined together to help those affected by the tragedy. President Rodrigo Duterte has already pledged P70 million for the operations, food, hygiene, and sanitation of evacuation centers. He released the initial P20 million during his visit to Albay.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is offering a cash-for-work program that would pay each evacuee P2,900 for 10 days of work. In addition, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has started constructing more than 300 temporary toilets in 56 evacuation centers — a very crucial facility especially for women evacuees.
I remember when I was still in government and Mayon volcano erupted. We travelled by land from Naga to Legazpi in order to assess the situation. When we visited the evacuation centers, we witnessed the difficulties faced by evacuees. Issues on food supply, sanitation, and security are always critical in evacuation centers. That is why disaster response always needs the help and support of everyone.
The Church, businesses, and ordinary people have sent help in various amounts, shapes, and sizes demonstrating once again the heart of the Filipino. Tragedies have a way of showing the true colors of our people — compassionate, resilient, and kind-hearted.
While volcanic eruptions are often deadly, there is always a sense of wonder and beauty after looking at the photos of Mayon’s eruption. For one, you get a feeling of how insignificant you are amidst this display of nature’s power and fury. It’s as if Mayon was performing to an audience, ejecting columns of ashes and discharging lava flows that appear like fireworks drizzling down Mayon’s famous slopes. It is a sight to behold.
And while volcanic eruptions are terrifying especially to those affected by them, they sometimes have positive effects. I remember that the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo — considered the largest volcanic eruption in history — affected climate around the world, causing the climate to cool and Asian rain patterns to shift temporarily.
And while volcanic ash can kill vegetation immediately after an eruption, it can also enrich the soil with minerals that sustain future crops as it seeps into the ground. The local government of Albay has already reported that vegetable prices have already begun to soar as the eruption hampers access to roads.
But as they say, sometimes we can turn problems into opportunities. I read some reports that local businesses have been reporting an uptick in tourism due to the eruptions as photographers — professionals and amateurs — and tourists flocked to the region to get a ringside seat to Mayon’s spectacular display. Local restaurants even came up with chili-spiced or flavored “lava ice cream.”
But let us not forget those who suffered from this tragedy. As one local resident said in an interview by Agence France Press (AFP): “We are thankful because we have many guests but it also makes me guilty because so many people are affected.”
I hope our kababayans around Mayon volcano can, as soon as possible, return to their homes and resume their normal lives. I am certain that they themselves will tell us that living in the vicinity of Mayon has taught them to respect its might and be grateful for the bounty it has given them.