The early morning swift colloquy is under way.


Year of the Metal Rat

It does not seem a very auspicious moniker for the upcoming year (then again, I was born in the year of the Earth Dog), but Jheng (who was born in the year of the Fire Horse) turns 30 on the same day we usher in the Metal Rat (that is, the 25th), so I determined to combine a trip downtown for a car payment with a search at the mall for a suitable gift, distracted enough on the ride over, pondering what Jheng would like, to point the camera into the light.


Sausages and mac and cheese for lunch; much scrounging around at the mall before ultimately choosing a gift; and a deposit of P18,000 at Pinoy World Assist, where the woman rep said a wonderful thing: the car will be ready on Monday.

Jheng's local barangay Triskelion chapter has a goal of collecting enough food for the feeding of 200 Taal Volcano evacuees for two days, and she's busy with them. The U.S. has gifted the evacuation centers with P5,000,000. And as I type this, the Philippine House of Representatives is holding its plenary session at the Batangas Convention Center (just outside the danger zone) to show its solidarity with Batangans.

The volcano itself is quieter, and fewer quakes are being recorded (there have been well over 600 in the last ten days). There has been some criticism by provincial politicians directed at the scientists at Philvocs: they want Philvocs to lower the danger level so that local businesses can open. The vice mayor of Talisay, on the north shore of Taal Lake, publicly encouraged town citizens to return to their homes, later saying of the leader of Philvocs, "Siya ba ay Diyos?" (Is he God?) This man is now in trouble with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (a metal ruler to the back of his hands, please, DILG). A spokeswoman for the scientists responded that Philvocs was "firm in its science." Magma is very close to the surface, and a destructive eruption may be imminent. Danger Level 4 will not be lowered; businesses in the 14 km. zone will be sanctioned if they open.

The numbers evacuated from the danger zone continue to rise.

Danger zone residents are being evacuated by both government workers and private citizens. ( Toledo IV)


​"Hindi paba sumasabog." (Do not explode.)

The above was just seen by me in the comments column of the live feed of Taal Volcano on YouTube ( The government bureau Phivolcs reported an hour ago that earthquakes (most quite small) continue at a high frequency, and that levels of sulfur dioxide in the vicinity of the volcano are rising (sulfur dioxide separates from magma when magma is close to the surface). In addition, most of Taal Island is rising, bulging apparently with pressure from below, while the northeastern flank is subsiding.

The lake in the crater evaporated days ago, but for several days the volcano has been relatively quiet, with puffs and occasional jets of smoke, but no fireworks. Philvolcs is keeping its alarm level at 4, and warns that something dire may be only a hop, skip, and a jump away.

Fourteen towns around the volcano have been evacuated and are on lockdown, and people residing within 14 kilometers of the crater have been advised to move away for the time being -- the farthest a pyroclastic flow has traveled, in previous Taal eruptions, was 14 kms. back in the 18th century. An estimated 150,000 people have moved; more than 60,000 of those are now living in evacuation centers. The population within that 14 km. radius is 459,000, however.

Volcano refugees. (CNN)

The "sit and wait" quality of this is unnerving to me, though my loved ones and I live far from the danger zone. Today I had a trike driver take me to the NE Crossing fruit stand, then up the Aurora road to the rotisserie guy, then farther up the Aurora road to Jheng's place, where the children had just arrived from school for lunch. Roasted chicken and sisig, but Jheng would not join us. There's a stomach bug going around, and she seems to have met up with it. Yuck-o. Hope you're well again very soon, dear.

Must talk with Aaron about how he should not shoot a camera into the light.


Taal Update

Since the initial phreatic boom, Taal Volcano has remained very active; Alert Level 4 is still in place. Yesterday a lava fountain shot up an estimated 1,500 feet into the sky, and ashfall has been continuous for three days. As far as I know (and I scan PI media every few hours) that one traffic death is still the only death attributed to the volcano.

Phivolcs is an institution within the DOST (Department of Science and Technology) whose job it is to monitor volcanic eruptions and mitigate their effects. I'm following their twitter feed, and most of their tweets over the past few days have reported earthquakes -- several hundred in Batangas Province, none very large, have been recorded. It is these quakes, combined with fissuring that is occurring throughout Batangas, that has led Phivolcs to warn that there is a great deal of magma movement beneath Lake Taal, and that a major eruption in the coming days or weeks is a real possibility.

One of the fissures, a crack nearly 3 kms. long, has left some streets impassable and a number of houses damaged.

The government hopes to move 200,000 people in a mandatory evacuation; more than 30,000 as of now have been moved either to shelters or to relatives outside the danger zone.

Of the 33 Taal eruptions recorded since the 16th century, the eruption of 1754 lasted seven months; the deadly eruption of 1911 lasted three days. Of course, no one knows how long this one will last or how deadly this one may become.


Taal Volcano

First an update of the situation of the Dumagats on the Kaliwa River. The day after I wrote the entry below, philstar global reported that a Dumagat leader has announced that the government agency pushing forward the building of the Kaliwa Dam had manipulated community members to approve the project in a manner that violated the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997. The agency is accused of using both intimidation and bribery at the meeting, and one hundred individuals have written to the chairman of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to protest the assembly and to ask the chairman to invalidate the decision that was reached. There will no doubt be more on this later; will try to keep you up to speed.


(En24 News)


Yes, another volcano on the island of Luzon has awoken: Mayon last year, Taal this year. I clicked back and forth to various PI media sites as the news started coming in yesterday. Taal emitted a gigantic plume of ash yesterday afternoon, causing authorities to evacuate more than 23,000 people from lakeside areas near the volcano. Flight operations at Manila's international airport were suspended yesterday, and remain suspended today. The type of eruption, I learned, was a "phreatic explosion," which occurs when a sudden infusion of magma turns the water table to steam, and the steam bursts forth, spewing with it ash, rocks, and volcanic bombs. Many of these phreatic explosions were recorded on Mt. St. Helens shortly before the devastating 1980 Plinian St. Helens eruption. (Plinian eruptions are driven directly by magma and can contain deadly pyroclastic flows. Yes, I am learning some things about vulcanology, these days.) One is dead and three injured in a car accident blamed on the ashfall: ash was reported falling over a broad swath of central Luzon, including Metro Manila (60 kms. away from Taal).

Early this morning, lava started spewing out of the cone. The Seismology Bureau has declared Alert Level 4 -- i.e., that a very dangerous explosive eruption is possible in the coming hours or days. An eruption-spawned tsunami warning has also been issued; the volcano sits in a caldera filled by Lake Taal, which has an average depth of 330 feet.

Taal Volcano in more peaceful times. (Wikipedia)

There are 27 active volcanoes in the Philippines, and quite a few on the island I call home (Cabanatuan is not near any of them). Of the 27, Taal Volcano has been rated the second most active -- it was edged out by Mount Mayon. Taal is also certainly one of the deadliest volcanoes in the country: the official toll of the 1911 Taal eruption is 1,335 lives, though many more than that are thought to have been killed.

As with the Kaliwa Dam issue, I'll keep you apprised of Taal developments. I'm well, Jheng's well, and the kiddos, back in school, are all well. Jheng's mom, Luz, continues to ail -- the doctor says it's her body's reaction to one or more of the drugs she is taking -- and of course, she's dealing with grief after losing Montero.

We've delayed taking the children to the cemetery; Jheng wants to wait until the car is returned.


The Sierra Madre, the Dumagats, and the Kaliwa Dam

The Sierra Madre's highest peaks top 6,000 feet. Situated on the east coast of northern Luzon, it is the longest mountain range in the Philippines.

Metro Manila covers 620 sq. kilometers and has a population of  12,877,000. Its population density, then, is more than 20,000/sq km. From Manila Bay, if you head north into the central flatlands of Luzon, which include the city of Cabanatuan, the density of human souls remains high, more than 1,000/ sq. km. in most areas.  Now drive over to the east coast. There, the population density is less than 30/sq. km. in most areas. This is because the east coast of northern Luzon hosts the Sierra Madre, a mountain range that stretches north-south for some 400 kilometers.

The Sierra Madre contains the largest rain forest in the Philippines, as well as several nature reserves and national parks. The New People's Army, with its on again-off again communist insurgency, is known to have hideouts there. The mountain range is also home to the Dumagat people, one of the many minority groups in the country.


2 photos by Kim David/Shutterstock

The Dumagats are a subgroup of the Aeta (Eye-tah) or Agta, which was among the first populations of people to settle in the Philippines, arriving from Australia and possibly the Solomon Islands. Paleontologists think they traveled here by land, back when there was a land bridge between Australia and this area more than 30,000 years ago. Today, the Dumagats are the last group of hunter-gatherers in the country, living off the natural bounty of the rain forest and the nearby seashore. Big caveat here: while many have kept their cultural practices and traditions, deculturalization is well under way. Throughout much of the last century, wild pigs, deer, and monkeys declined in number in the forest as the slash-and-burn farming and the logging operations of outsiders increased; as well, the privatization of coastal property barred the Dumagats from many foraging and fishing locales. So many of them took up jobs offered by the lowlanders, many started practicing the slash-and-burn farming they learned from the lowlanders, and many simply relocated outside their ancestral homeland.

Eastern Rizal Province borders Metro Manila, while its western reaches stretch back into the Sierra Madre and contain many Dumagat/Remontado communities (Remontado is the name given to people of mixed lowlander and Dumagat race). Government administrations going all the way back to Marcos have wanted to push ahead with a dam project along the Kaliwa River in western Rizal. But these endeavors had to be shelved due to logistical or financial insufficiencies combined with the outcry and well-organized protests of the Dumagat people. In recent years, with the skyrocketing of Metro Manila's population and the onset of more severe than usual seasonal droughts, the need for another reservoir to serve Metro Manila is more urgently felt than ever, though. In March, April, and May of last year, rotational water interruptions occurred due to record low levels in the existing reservoirs. People had to line up with various receptacles for the arrival of fire trucks or water company carriers to satisfy their most basic need. And they were not happy about it.



President Duterte to the rescue. In the middle of last year he landed a Chinese company capable of building the Kaliwa Dam and signed a whopping loan agreement with the government of China. Five of the six Dumagat communities along the affected portion of the river announced they would not agree to the project, despite government promises of generous assistance in their relocation. The Dumagats held firm, and they had their eco-advocates in Manila, as well as national laws concerning the protection of indigenous peoples' homelands, to back them up. Duterte fired back, saying he would use the presidency's "extraordinary powers,"and "outright police power," to make sure the project went forward. Also, he warned the courts not to issue any restraining orders when the work began. It seemed like a big fight was looming.

(Leandro Miguel Novero)

Then a few days ago the government announced, out of the blue, that it had reached an agreement with the Dumagat communities for their relocation. It assured the public that the communities had not been coerced in any way. Details concerning this agreement have not yet been made public.

Environmental NGOs in Manila are not happy with the news, I'm sure; they have concerns about the dam that go beyond the rights of indigenous people in the Philippines. Due to the recent collapse of large dams in Vietnam and Myanmar, the World Commission on Dams has recommended that due to the weather extremes caused by climate change, dams the size of Kaliwa should no longer be built. It has been pointed out, too, that the site of the dam is not far from an active fault. A sudden Kaliwa Dam collapse would likely kill many thousands of people living downstream.

With the Dumagat agreement, though, there doesn't seem to be anything that could now stop the construction of the dam. It is expected the dam will be completed sometime in 2022, after which it will provide Metro Manila with 640 million gallons of processed water per day.

The Kaliwa River. (Rappler)

Find earlier posts on the 2nd Floor!