House to hold session in Batangas City

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MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives approved yesterday a proposal of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to hold their session tomorrow in Batangas City.

“Basically, what we want to achieve is that Congress’ nature is not reactionary. We want to show that from the very start, this institution has become the ‘House of the People’ or Hope. So, we want the people to know that we are dependable, that we will try to be a reliable, responsive and relevant Congress,” Cayetano said after 232 members of the 300-member chamber voted in favor of his proposal. 

The session to be held at the Batangas City Convention Center will tackle disaster-related bills, including the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR).

“What we envision is that our help or assistance should become institutional and should be permanent because we are not here all the time. We want to have a permanent mechanism that will be put into place every time we have disasters,” Cayetano said. 

Majority Leader Martin Romualdez said the House leadership would expedite the passage of the DDR bill, among others, in the wake of the Taal Volcano eruption that has displaced thousands of victims. 

Other priority bills in the pipeline include the creation of the Department of Filipinos Overseas and the Department of Water Resources, which are expected to be passed before Congress adjourns in March.

Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte also emphasized the need for “permanent evacuation centers” in all local government units (LGUs) in the country as he discouraged the use of public schools and covered courts or gymnasiums as temporary shelters when disaster strikes.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the creation of DDR would ensure a more efficient, coordinated and complete system of disaster management during calamity situations, like the Taal eruption.

“By having this Department of Disaster Resilience, our people will easily know where to go in times of calamities and which agency is responsible for providing assistance and guidance to them,” he said in his privilege speech during the resumption of session yesterday.

The DDR, he added, would take on the functions of the Office of Civil Defense, Climate Change Office of the Climate Change Commission, Geo-Hazard Assessment and Engineering Geology Section of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Health Emergency Management Bureau of the Department of Health, Disaster Response Assistance and Management Bureau of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Bureau of Fire Protection and the Program Management Office for Earthquake Resiliency of the Greater Metro Manila Area.

Under his proposal, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology will also be attached to the agency.  

P3.215-B damage to agriculture

The National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) reported yesterday that Taal Volcano’s damage to agriculture in the provinces of Batangas, Laguna and Cavite has reached P3.215 billion in just a week.

High-value crops like coffee are the most affected at P1.394 billion while fisheries losses ballooned to P1.6 billion. Damage to livestock was at P126.3 million, corn at P88.9 million and rice at P5.6 million. 

The NDRRMC also said that as of yesterday, the official tally of the number of evacuees is at 112,757 persons representing 29,424 families in 416 different evacuation centers.

Taal Volcano, though showing less smoke in the last few days, remains at Alert Level 4 considering the numerous earthquakes that continue to shake Batangas and neighboring provinces.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture maintained that fish in Taal Lake remain safe for human consumption for as long as these are caught alive.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources conducted laboratory analyses for water and fish samples in Taal Lake.

These revealed that the consumption of fish from the lake is safe for as long as these are fresh and caught alive. The fish must be washed thoroughly, its internal organs removed and cooked properly.

“The BFAR advisory indicates that yes [it is safe] as long as tilapia is still fresh and alive. But those that are dead already, do not eat them for food safety reasons,” Dar said.

Fishers around Taal Lake said the recent findings would help allay fears of fellow fisherfolk, evacuees around Taal and consumers from Metro Manila.

The Taal Lake Aquaculture Alliance Inc. (TLLAI), composed of almost 6,000 fish cage owners, also appealed to authorities, particularly disaster coordinating agencies, to allow them to harvest the huge volume of fish that remains in floating cages scattered throughout the lake.

BFAR data showed there are over 6,000 fish cages with 15,000 metric tons of fish each that are threatened by Taal’s eruption.

“Aside from being our main source of livelihood, the fish feeds our families and is a rich source of protein for thousands of Filipinos. We harvest an estimated 300 MT of fish from our fish cages in Taal Lake every day. We appeal to the government to allow us to harvest our remaining fish so it can ease our suffering while at the same time help feed thousands of evacuees scattered throughout Batangas,” TLLAI said in a statement.

The group noted they are ready and willing to coordinate with appropriate government agencies for orderly and safe harvesting. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Michael Punongbayan, Louise Maureen Simeon, Elizabeth Marcelo