By Ellson Quismorio
AGONCILLO, Batangas–The thick layer of volcanic ash, the inescapable sulfuric odor, and intermittent earthquakes here should have given local residents a thousand reasons to leave.
But for Recencio Reyes and Ruby Holgado, only one reason was needed for them to stay and brave Taal Volcano’s fury.
Reyes, 60, was already enjoying the relative comforts of the evacuation center when he decided to walk back home along Talisay- Laurel- Agoncillo- Lemery Road to check on something very close to his heart — his two pet dogs.
“Hindi ko maiwan dahil nakakaawa rin at parang anak mo na rin. Kaya aking pupuntahan (I can’t just leave them because I pity them and they’re like my children. That’s why I’m going to them),” said Reyes, who waded through the ash on the road without even a face mask on.
In his hand was a small paper bag containing rice, which would have been his dogs’ meal. “Pinagsaing ko pa nga eh (I cooked this for them),” he proudly declared.
Reyes wasn’t sure if he could bring his dogs over to the evacuation center, where his seven children and wife are currently staying. As such, he had his dogs tied on a leash at his house.
He said he plans to do the same thing in the succeeding days, as if Taal doesn’t have a say in it.
“[Pagkatapos] pupunta na ako sa [evacuation center], tapos babalik kinabukasan. Mahirap na trabaho (After this I’ll go to the evacuation center, then go back home the next day. It’s hard work),” he admitted.
Further down the road was the Holgado residence, one of the very few homes whose residents refused to evacuate despite the ongoing calamity. Ruby, wearing a handkerchief over her nose and mouth, was busy pumping water from their well, just like a regular day.
Her tired eyes and somber demeanor were a stark contrast to Reyes’s giddiness.
“Bakit hindi pa po kayo lumilikas? Narinig niyo po ba ‘yung pagputok kanina? (Why haven’t you evacuated? Didn’t you hear the eruption a while ago?)” this reporter asked the woman.
“Opo, narinig ko po (Yes, I heard it),” Holgado said nonchalantly, continuing to pump water into a pail. “Gusto ko po kasama yung asawa at anak ko [kapag lumikas] (I want to evacuate together with my husband and my children).”
“Ayaw po ba nilang umalis? (Don’t they want to leave?)” this reporter asked again, to which Holgado simply closed her eyes and shook her head.
“Twenty-five years na po kami dito. Bahala na po (We’ve been here for 25 years. We’ll leave it to God),” she said, somewhat aware that the worst could still come.