Press Release
January 20, 2020

Privilege Speech of Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto


Mr. President, my dear colleagues:

Sabi nila ang Bulkang Taal daw ay ang puso - at pusod - ng Batangas. And that umbilical cord has not been cut off.

No other force, nature or nurture, has shaped Batangas history more than this "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma," or make that inside a magma.

It has altered our landscape. What man can put together, Taal can put asunder. The present location of Tanauan is its 3rd. Where Bauan is today, is actually its 3rd. And Lipa is on its 5th settlement.

Now it can be told: Batanguenos pioneered the Build Back Better scheme.

Eruptions change the color of the landscape temporarily, but permanently, they can alter the contours of the land. Kung hindi kinain ng lawa, tinabunan ng abo. One bustling town, Sala, was never seen again.

Taal also defined the Batangueno character. From it we probably got our volcanic temper, a tongue as sharp as a balisong forged in volcanic silica, and the art of keeping a romance as hot as a red lava.

Living constantly in the line of fire has made us resilient, adaptive, innovative, fatalistic. And brave. We have no windmills to tilt, but in Taal, we have a more formidable fates and foe to tempt. This dwarf volcano makes all our enemies Lilliputian.

So we fought the Spanish, one ray of the sun in our flag honors our forebears, from Mabini who was the brains of the revolution, to the thousands who shed blood for freedom.

When the Americans came, it became Ground Zero of resistance that what they did in Vietnam half a century later was first tried in the towns that ring Taal. It was also opposition country during Martial Law.

Pero kapag nag-alburuto si Taal, walang matapang na Batangueno.

So when Taal began acting up two Sundays ago, Batanguenos living in its shadows read the signs and knew what to do. They self-evacuated. Living in the mouth of the beast have made them the best early warning device.

And they fled, in minutes, thousands of them, on boats, without a single loss of life.

Batangueno chivalry made sure that women, elderly and children boarded first.

Batangueno hospitality made sure that not one of the hundreds of tourists on the island will be hurt.

Batangueno men launched the flotilla of boats as if they were veterans of Dunkirk. (The boats would return later to rescue the animals left behind, to redeem the tearful promise of "I shall return" that was whispered to them by their humans.)

Maliit man daw ang Taal, ang abo naman nito ay nakakapuwing.

And so it did.

Its January 12 eruption was short by Taal standards, a burp, when compared to its 1754 cataclysmic behavior, when it vomited ash and lava for almost 7 months.

Yet it was able to displace 500,000 people, at least 104,377 of whom are in 408 evacuation centers in four provinces, turned 11 towns into no-go zones, halted activity in the Tagaytay ridge which is the most visited tourist area in the Philippines.

The fallout extended further, and upward. Metro Manila schools and offices closed for days and shut down NAIA and Clark, marooning hundreds of thousands of passengers in 643 flights cancelled.

Farms whose soil was made rich by past volcanic eruption took a beating as well. And so are the waters from which the best tasting tawilis, maliputo, tilapia and bangus are farmed and fished.

The DA pegged an initial estimate of three billion peso bill in crops and animals were lost. Even the bean counters in government was able to tally the P1.35 billion lost to Kapeng Barako farms by Taal's toxic brew.

This toll of misery and Taal is not having a blast yet.

Because still buried in its bowels is the force of hundreds of Hiroshimas.

The resilience of the Batanguenos and their fellow classmates in the revolution and neighbors around Taal - the people of Cavite and Laguna - in the face of the eruptions have been romanticized in viral memes, witty poems, and moving songs that only Batanguenos could weave together.

So are the continuing heartfelt response of Filipinos from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi, the Red Cross and from every time zone in the world. They are so earnest and endless, this human pipeline of help, that they have left many macho Batangas men to tears.

This compassion is as thick as Taal's ashfall. And what makes them truly human is that most of donations poured in anonymously, and we know that kindness without credit is the most sublime.

Mula po sa kaibuturan ng aming puso, maraming, maraming salamat po.

But citizen resilience should not stand as a substitute for government response. Whatever the disaster is, the toughness of survivors does not excuse government from showing total care.

I will later describe the hows of possible government response, but let me first tell you the whys.

The electricity we use in this building was most probably dispatched from Batangas. Base plants in the province supply half of Luzon's power supply.

Some of the steel bars and sheets and cement being used by the construction around us originated from Batangas, too.

Most of the cars in showrooms that dot our neighbourhood rolled off from Batangas port. And so are visitors from MIMAROPA shopping in the malls nearby.

Speaking of vehicles, many of their parts, together with many export items, are made in the manufacturing corridor in the Batangas gateway.

The tilapia and bangus grilled in the riverside row of eateries a stone's throw from here probably came from Taal Lake.

So are the pineapple in the hotel buffet tables, the coffee beans that baristas brew.

The Filipiniana store balikbayans love to visit in our neighboring mall showcases Batangas made products whose names begin with B - balisong, burdang Taal, bagoong, barakong kape, buko pie.

Near it are travel shops that package tours to another B which dot Batangas - beaches - because its coastline is abundant in Vitamin Sea.

Ano man ang type n'yo sa pagkaluto ng itlog n'yo - poached, fried or scrambled - ang itlog na yan ay t'yak galing Batangas.

And for smokers who cough up taxes and for alcohol-proof drinkers who leave a hefty tip to the BIR whenever they order their favorite drink, many of these sin products are also made in Batangas

But Batangas is just one cog in the economic powershouse that is CaLaBarZon, the highest GDP contributor, next to Metro Manila.

The provinces affected by Taal eruption - Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Quezon is some sort of a mini-European Union, four provinces linked by commerce.

A Batangueno may live in Batangas, works in Laguna, and shops in Cavite. Or a Cavite family has business in Batangas but sends their kid to college in Laguna. Or a Laguna family has a farm in Batangas and a small business in Cavite.

So while a factory in Laguna may remain unscathed by volcanic ash, it is as if it was dealt a direct blow if many of its Batangueno employees cannot report for work because their homes have been affected by the eruption.

The same is true with Tagaytay establishments, as many of their workers are residents of the lakeshore towns below.

The reality is factories are not like driverless-cars that can navigate on their own, and orders are not taken by robots in restaurants. When the workforce is displaced, the workplace is, too.

Kung Batangueno ka, malamang may kamag-anak ka sa Cavite, Laguna at Quezon. Na sila ngayong kumukupkop sa mga daang libong bakwit.

At gusto kong espesyal na pasalamatan ang mga taga-Laguna, taga-Quezon at mga Kabitenyo. For this is true: Many evacuees have been taken in by private homes in Cavite, Laguna and Quezon.

This makes the radius of the desolation - and help - wider. In plotting the coordinates of assistance, including the other provinces is a must.

May kasabihan ito sa Batangas: Ang sakit ng kalingkingan, dama ng buong katawan.

Harinawa'y tapos na ang pag-alburuto ni Taal. Sapagkat ang kirot nito ay dama ng buong sambayanan.

'Ika nga ng isang liham ng isang ka-Batang na nagsusumamo kay Taal :

Kamusta na ga, ikaw ga e galit pa din?
Kalma na ikaw, nasisira na ang iyong ganda pag ikaw e gay-an.
Tahan na. Nang kami'y makabangon na.
At nang ikaw e bumalik na ulet sa iyong ganda.

Pero kahit mag The End pa ang pyrotechnic show ni Taal, malaking trabaho ang ating kinahaharap. The hard work is after the dust has settled.

Houses to be rebuilt, schools to be repaired, streets to be cleaned and those with cracks to be replaced, animal farms to be restocked, orchards to be rehabilitated, livelihood to be resurrected, interrupted business to be started again.

And if there are areas that need to be placed under prolonged danger zone, the hard work of resettling their residents, not to mere dumping grounds of Taal refuse, but to places where they can earn a living.

The latter is important because the benchmark of resettlement is that displaced people must not be deprived of dignity.

Taal's waking up is a wake up call for all us. Protocols have to be dusted up, from how NAIA can cope with a shutdown, to the need for more evacuation facilities in a region crammed with people, in a country prone to calamity.

The people affected by this calamity deserve help for they have religiously amortized their volcanic eruption insurance over the years through the taxes they pay from their business, trade and jobs.

Also chipping in are remittances from Batangueno workers abroad, from Japan to Jamaica, from Italy to Iceland, from UAE to USA. Those who speak with "ala eh" accent form the biggest subset of the Filipino Diaspora.

Until Taal quiets down, the final cost of relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction cannot be tallied yet.

But that does not immobilize us from identifying and readying the sources of assistance. And luckily the 2020 national budget is a raft of aid that can be tapped.

To name a few:

There is the Calamity Fund.

There are other funds in the budget which can be frontloaded so that their use will not only help in rebuilding lives, livelihood and infrastructure, but generate local jobs and stimulate the local economy as well.

The best form of relief does not come in grocery bags, but in fund infusion that will give work to the people. The Batangueno people are ready with their sweat equity.

For example, while the fishermen of Taal are thankful for the donation of canned sardines, what they actually look forward to is the normalcy to fish for freshwater sardines called tawilis.

It is also time for government to accelerate and advance the grant of welfare assistance - from 4Ps, senior pension, sustainable livelihood program, shelter assistance, supplementary feeding program, protective services for individuals in difficult circumstances, etc. Kung ano ang para sa buong taon, pwedeng ibigay na rin. There are off-budget items that can be tapped as well.

Yung bilyun-bilyong travel tax na matagal nang binuro, i-ayuda sa mga nasa industriya ng turismo sa Taal at palibot nito, at unahin ang mga nasa laylayan ng lawa, yung mga bangkero, mga may-ari ng kabayo sa isla.

Isa pang binagoong na pondo which can be tapped for Taal rehabilitation is the MVUC fund which stands at P46.25 billion.

I have also filed a bill today, for consideration of the administration, establishing the Taal Reconstruction Commission so that rehabilitation is done in an organized, programmed, predictable, transparent, inter-agency manner, with the robust participation of local governments, civil society and the private sector.

Why do we have to prepare early? Because we do not wait for our neighbor's house to be on fire before we post bidding notices for a water hose.

I also believe, based on our history, that it is only through a chartered, one-stop-shop, government body that the rehabilitation of a devastated land can be successful.

If many of our calamity areas are dotted with the carcasses of failed, delayed and unneeded projects, it is because the approach in rebuilding has been scattered and sporadic.

Sa mahabang kasaysayan nito, maraming unos ang dinanas at nalampasan ng Batangueño.

Ang pagsabog ng Taal ay bahagi lamang ng mga pagsubok. Kung gaano kasigurado ang pagdating ng trahedya, ganun din ang aming pagbangon. Itaga n'yo sa bato: Babangon ang Batangas.

Ang nakakataba lang ng puso at nakakapawi ng lungkot, ay anumang hirap ang pinapasan namin ngayon, napapagaan sa pagdating ng tulong ng aming mga kababayan.

Halos buong sambayanan ang umaalalay sa amin. Pinawi ny'o ang aming uhaw, binigyan n'yo kami ng saplot, nilatagan ng mahihigaan, ipinagluto ng pagkain, binigyan ng gamot, pati aming mga hayop inaruga nyo. Binuksan ang inyong mga bahay at inilikas kami sa ligtas na lugar.

Kung gaano kakapal ang abo, ganun din ang kwento ng tapang at dalamhati na aming naramdaman.

Sumuong kayo sa panganib, hindi alintana ang pagod, makapiling lang kami sa aming oras ng pangangailangan.

Wala na kaming masasabi kundi maraming, maraming, maraming salamat po.

Bilang pagtatapos, let me share with you some questions the evacuees ask of me, lalo na doon sa mga bayang sobrang naapektuhan ng Taal.

Sabi nila, "Sir, pagkatapos nito ano na? Paano na kami? Wala na kaming babalikang bahay at kabuhayan. Lahat ng pinaghirapan at pinundar namin, naglahong parang bula."

Back to zero daw sila.

Sagot ko, "Huwag kayong mag-alala. Hindi namin kayo pababayaan."

Tulad ko, alam kong hindi n'yo rin sila pababayaan.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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