By Corina Oliquino

MANILAFormer Batangas governor and now Representative Vilma Santos-Recto in a privilege speech at the House of Representatives on January 20, proposed the establishment of a commission to assist Taal Volcano eruption victims.

“I propose to this body for the creation of Taal Commission at the appropriate time — the relief rehabilitation and assistance of those affected by the eruption of Taal Volcano,” Santos-Recto said, telling her fellow solons at least 41,000 families or about 180,000 individuals stay in evacuation centers within and outside Batangas according to the Batangas Provincial Risk Reduction and Management Office.

Santos-Recto also urged her colleagues to realign funds in coordination with the House appropriations committee, Department of Budget and Management and other Government agencies for the immediate release of funds.

“This is to address the crisis caused by the volcano activity and in order to ensure the immediate rehabilitation and resettlement of our fellow Batangueños,” she said.

“In addition, I hope we can craft more laws that would improve our local government units’ disaster preparedness capabilities so that we can ensure the safety, health and economic well-being of our people,” she added, citing Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum that Alert Level 4 is still in effect over Taal Volcano and that an explosive eruption is still possible.

The towns of Agoncillo, San Nicolas, Talisay, Balete, Mataas na Kahoy, Lemery, Laurel, Taal, part of Cuenca, Alitagtag, Sta. Teresita, San Jose, Malvar, Tanauan City, Lipa City, parts of Tagaytay City and parts of Cavite province are in high-risk zones.

“These evacuation centers must be equipped with capabilities and facilities to respond and serve the needs of our people who would be affected by disasters and calamities. Ito yung evacuationna tinatawag nating one-stop shop.”

“With this, we will avoid the displacement and disruption of the classes of our school children when it resumes,” she added.

In a report by The Philippine Star, Santos-Recto’s husband Senate Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto filed Senate Bill 1275 or the creation of the Taal Volcano Rehabilitation and Development Commission.

Under the bill, the Taal Volcano Rehabilitation and Development Fund will allocate PHP50 billion to provide immediate relief to affected individuals and families.

“This would also establish resettlement centers, homesites and townsites for displaced families, provide livelihood and employment opportunities for residents and construct, repair, rehabilitate or reconstruct public infrastructure needed in affected communities,” the Philippine Star report reads.

“Ultimately, this proposed measure seeks to hasten the recovery and sustain the economic development of communities affected by the eruption of Taal Volcano with the hopes that the return to normalcy will aid not only in the economic prosperity of the Southern Tagalog Region but of the entire country as well,” Recto said.

No need for Taal task force

In another report by The Philippine Star, Malacañang does not see the need for a task force proposed by Deputy Speaker and 1-Pacman party-list Representative Mikee Romero but is open to study Recto’s proposed commission.

“For now, I don’t see any need for that because everything is in place. Everything in place so the President praised them (the agencies),” Panelo said in a radio interview recently.

“We will study all good proposals and we will implement it if it would benefit our countrymen,” he added, noting Duterte will decide whether such a bill would be certified as urgent.

Panelo said the Office of the President is ready to release additional funds to assist areas affected by the Taal Volcano crisis, if necessary.

“For now, our funds are still OK,” the Palace spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Free Workers (FFW) has called on Recto to include two workers or at least one female worker as members of the proposed commission.

The group is also supporting the creation of a rehab commission.

“This is a big help for a number of displaced families now in dire need of livelihood due to the recent volcano eruption,” Federation President Sonny Matula said while also praising the immediate hiring of 6,000 workers in affected areas.

FFW has also urged the Department of Labor and Employment to hire more of the 150,000 people from Taal area and “expedite the adoption of the implementing rules for Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers or TUPAD.”