This year started with a bang, literally.
Taal, the go-to “chill” place of Manila’s urbanites for years, and Taal Volcano and the lake surrounding it, are the centers of attraction. Traversing all the Batangas towns around Taal, travelers enjoy the breathtaking views of the lake and the volcano. But the best view is, of course, from the Tagaytay Ridge. There, one can enjoy the impressive sight and the cool weather to boot.
Unfortunately, mid-way through the first month of 2020, the volcano, which had been resting for 43 years, suddenly got cranky and surprised everyone. It spewed columns of ash and pebbles towering up to 14 kilometers on a Sunday, Jan. 12.
The once scenic landscapes were blanketed in monotone grey. Days after the first explosion, there was no clean breathable air, not just around the Taal vicinity, as the wind-borne ash reached as far as Metro Manila.
Masks were sold out in the blink of an eye and every media outlet made sure they catered to every curious whim of the masses, from normal schoolboy volcano science to how to wash your car after driving through the ash zone.
Being no stranger to the volunteer scene, Tita Tessy (Teresita Ang See), as usual, dragged me, willingly I might add, straight into trouble again.
Deanie Go canvassed for volunteers to work with Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) in helping churches who took in evacuees.
Quite doable, I thought, supply drop for Our Lady of Pillar in Imus, Cavite, which serves as a consolidation site for the relief efforts for all neighboring churches.
As I am quite familiar with the annoying scenario of over/undersupply in evacuation sites, I just concentrated on the requested priorities, which were rice, canned goods, hygiene kits, basic medicine and underwear. Good thing Kaisa had many enthusiastic donors and supporters.
My good friend, Karina Chua, messaged me wanting to donate a box full of medicine. Awesome! I just acted like a Grab or Lalamove rider and picked it up after work – an easy choice to make to help those in need.
In the middle of preparing the goods, Tita Tessy messaged me: Caritas Health had an urgent request from their 15 employees in various evacuation sites in Batangas. They needed anything we can spare and they needed it in two days! This was because the truck will be doing the pickup from the Quezon City headquarters to deliver to Batangas.
Sacks of rice, canned goods, slippers, eco bags and umbrellas were needed. Under the harsh sun and ash fall, evacuees in Batangas waited in line patiently for the relief packs. Even with extremely short notice, everything was with Caritas Health by the next morning for their employees, who are themselves evacuees from Lemery, Lipa, Nasugbu, Tanauan and Balayan.
When that was done, guess what, another emergency came up. I learned that in relief work, always be prepared and expect the unexpected.
Apparently, some of the people affected by the Taal eruption sought refuge with relatives in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, which itself is still recovering from Typhoon Ursula.
This was understandable, as Batangas to Mindoro was just a ferry ride away, and it was also expected that despite their poverty, they could never turn away relatives in dire need.
With more mouths to feed and resources dwindling, San Jose Vice Mayor Roderick Agas sent an SOS and stated that all donations bound for San Jose, via the Narpin bus, will be free of charge.
Since there was a lack of shelter and clothing, we immediately sent laminated sheets, clothes and slippers the next day. And we sent batches of food, medicine and mats a few days later.
What surprised me the most was how fast and efficient Agas was. Goods were distributed within days, documented with pictures and videos.
As there were accountability and transparency on everything requested, this guy earned my respect.
Taal Volcano is now a bit less grumpy, and the alert level has been lowered to Level 2. The supply drop was relocated to Tahanan ng Mabuting Pastol in Tagaytay. Since we have a surplus of donations, I added more to the requested priorities. Good thing Ahia Willie Go lent his Jac Truck for this drop, and his driver Teddy was also very helpful.
We were able to deliver sacks of rice, boxes of canned goods, hygiene kits, sanitary pads, soap, and other supplies (see the list of Kaisa’s donations).
Helping me carry and transfer goods were volunteers Manchester Sy and Misha Hwang, my two English-speaking kargadors. I met Maria Isabel Buenaobra of PPCRV, and Father Mike who was in charge of the site. They assured me that the goods will be sent to Laurel and Talisay the day after our drop, with supplies for Agoncillo to follow.
We ended our Tagaytay drop with coffee from the green mermaid (Yup, Starbucks), choosing the branch famous for its picturesque view of Taal.
Sipping at my dark mocha frappe, looking at the beautiful view, the volcano looked eerily calm. Smoke still spiraled from its crater and it still had hues of grey around it.
People are still trying to recover from the shock of being displaced and many are still in evacuation centers, having lost everything to the merciless fury of nature. Our relief operations continued on to Batangas after the first Tagaytay drop.
I remember Tita Tessy saying, “We should consider ourselves lucky that we were given the opportunity to help.”
I totally agree.