By Aaron Recuenco
BATANGAS CITY— The Batangas Provincial Government has started shifting to a more challenging phase of relief and rehabilitation as some 22,000 houses were damaged and thousands of families were left reliant on assistance for their food and other basic needs due to the devastation wrought by the Jan. 12 Taal Volcano eruption.
Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas said while almost 50 percent of the evacuees have already returned to their homes on Monday after the alert level of the volcano was lowered to Level 3 on Sunday, most of them would start from scratch because their means of livelihood were gone, referring to the displaced families whose means of living are farming, livestock, and fishing.
“The rumblings of Taal (volcano) may soon be over, but the adverse effects of the eruption on thousands of Batangueño families continue. They need the help of the government and that is the reason why we have been mapping out plans in order to help them stand back on their feet,” Mandanas told the Manila Bulletin in an interview here.
For instance, Mandanas said the returning evacuees would need food and drinking water supply in the coming days since it is expected that most of them, particularly the poor, lost everything to the eruption.
The 22,000 families who lost their homes, he said, would also need help rebuilding their houses.
Mandanas said these families who lost their homes and opted to remain at the evacuation centers, along with those who returned to their homes, must be continuously fed by the government.
This is aside from the damaged bridges and roads and other infrastructure like school buildings which were damaged due to volcanic quakes. Extensive cleaning also needs to be done in the communities that suffered the brunt of the ash fall.
“Ang mga Batangueno ay mayayabang. Ayaw nilang umaasa, but at this point, they need help to start and soon, with the help of the government and the private sector, I am sure that we will all rise up from this challenge,” Mandanas said.
The initial plan, according to Mandanas, is to give P3,000 to P6,000 cash to each of the families affected by the Taal Volcano eruption. The amount to be given depends on the extent of impact caused by the eruption.
Based on their data, Mandanas said there are 200,000 families affected in Batangas. He said the cash assistance, which will serve as a start-up fund for the affected families, will be properly documented in the spirit of transparency.
Since the families whose means of livelihood is livestock are too devastated at this point to buy food for their animals, Mandanas said they are planning to buy all of them as another way of assisting the affected families.
“We will buy their pigs, goats, cows, horses, and other farm animals, dead or alive. In this way, the money that they would receive could be use as start-up fund to start again or venture to another business.”
Batangas Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) head Joselito Castro said they are now crafting the guidelines for buying the animals of the volcano eruption-affected families.
For the affected farmers, Mandanas said that they would provide the basic farming tools, seedlings, and fertilizers.
Mandanas also said that since the returning families have no means of livelihood when they go back to their communities, the provincial government will set up assistance centers in every affected barangay where families could get food, drinking water, milk for their children, medicine, and other basic needs.
“And these are all for free. The assistance centers will remain until their lives are normalized based on our assessment,” Mandanas said.
P50 billion for rehab programs
On Monday, the Batangas Provincial Council started deliberations to increase the province’s calamity fund and to find more available funds that can be realigned to relief and rehabilitation.
Mandanas said their calamity fund is expected to be increased from P60 million to P300 million.
He added that they would raise at least P2 billion for the rehabilitation, and this would be included in the P30 rehabilitation billion fund promised by President Duterte.
“In our estimate, we would need not less than P50 billion for the integrated rehabilitation which includes housing and livelihood assistance,” Mandanas said.
He said based on their assessment, the entire rehabilitation should not reach three years.
Their rehabilitation program includes a short-term plan where livelihood assistance is given to the affected families, intermediate which includes housing, and the long-term which covers the rebuilding of damaged infrastructure and lost livelihood.
Mandanas also welcomed the idea of creating a Taal Commission that will supervise the rehabilitation efforts of the areas affected by the Taal Volcano eruption.
“The national government wanted to help so it is welcome, they need a focal organization to do it and that could be the Taal Commission. On our part, we are also asking for it in order to expedite the rehabilitation especially on the aspect of funding,” Mandanas said.
But in the meantime that the Taal Commission remains a proposal, Mandanas said it is the Batangas Provincial Government which will supervise the rehabilitation.
“We are organized, we even have our own department equivalent to a commission,” he said, referring to the PDRRMO.
On Monday, only six barangays were covered by the lockdown being implemented by the police and the military.
They are Barangays Bilinbiwang, Subic Ilaya, and Banyaga in Agoncillo town; and Barangays Gulod, Buso-Buso, and Bugaan East in Laurel.
Although part of mainland Batangas, the six barangays are within the seven-kilometer danger zone.