By Miguel Gil

DANGEROUS GROUND. Members of a multi-agency inspection team receive briefing shortly after they arrived in Taal Volcano Island on Tuesday (May 7, 2024). Civil Defense Calabarzon spokesperson Randy de la Paz (4th from left) said they spotted a handful of individuals defying a government ban and still staying on the island. (Photo courtesy of Office of Civil Defense-Calabarzon)

TALISAY, Batangas – A multi-agency inspection team on Tuesday discovered that a handful of individuals were still residing In Taal Volcano Island (TVI) despite the government earlier declaring it a “no human settlements land.”

Randy de la Paz, spokesperson of the Office of Civil Defense-Calabarzon, told the Philippine News Agency that the stragglers consist mostly of caretakers of fish cages that are spread out along TVI shores.

He said the inspection team gave them a stern warning to vacate the island immediately for their own safety as Taal Volcano continues to be unpredictable.

Asked whether officials are contemplating a forced evacuation, de la Paz explained that such a move is within the scope of the government’s authority but a decision has not been made as of the moment.

“I cannot say exactly how many people are still staying there (on TVI), but it is safe to say that the number is minimal. There seems to be less people now than what was observed during earlier inspections,” de la Paz said in an interview.

The stragglers have thus far proven resilient, having managed to survive a series of grassfires that blazed across portions of the island on May 2.

In its aftermath, investigators said campfires lit by people still staying on the island probably started the grassfires.

De la Paz further explained that the Protected Area Management Board, the policy and decision-making body of the Taal Volcano Protected Landscape (TVPL), has allowed aquaculture sector workers to tend to their fish cages around the island between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily.

However, this is with the understanding that they will not reside on the island and they will keep their visits only within the seven-hour daily window.

Moreover, the window hours are automatically cancelled once Taal Volcano is observed to be acting up, he added.

De la Paz, who took part in Tuesday’s ocular inspection, said they were joined by representatives of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Batangas Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, and Bureau of Fire Protection, among others. (PNA)