By Charmaine A. Tadalan
THE proposed P30-billion supplemental budget to aid those affected by the Taal ashfall will likely be refocused towards development projects for the region after prospects dimmed for an explosive eruption, a key legislator said.
Representative Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda of the second district of Albay, who is the vice chairman of the committee on appropriations, said the urgency has gone out of the supplemental budget after the Philippine Institute on Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) lowered the alert level for Taal to 3 from 4.
Alert level 3 denotes a “high level of volcanic unrest” featuring low-frequency earthquakes, tremors and “forceful” steam and ash emissions. Alert level four indicates an imminent “hazardous eruption,” a condition marked by “earthquake swarms” and “frequent strong ash explosions.” Alert level 4, in force since the volcano ejected large volumes of ash on Jan. 12, is the second-highest level, with 5 indicating an eruption in progress.
“No need for supplemental here because we thought it will erupt,” Mr. Salceda said at a briefing Tuesday.
When asked about pending measures introduced by Batangas representatives in the House of Representatives, Mr. Salceda said “I will support that. We can convert that into a more developmental (measure), which is really the creation of the South-of-Manila growth corridor.”
President Rodrigo R. Duterte had asked the 18th Congress to pass a P30-billion supplemental budget to fund disaster response and rehabilitation efforts.
The lowering of the alert level on Sunday allowed residents in affected Batangas towns and cities to return to their homes. Batangas Governor Hermilando I. Mandanas lifted the lockdown order in force over the towns of Alitagtag, Balete, Cuenca, Lemery, Malvar, Mataas na kahoy, San Nicolas, Sta. Teresita, Taal and Talisay, and the cities of Tanauan and Lipa.
Mr. Salceda said there is no more need for a supplemental budget, noting that the government has sufficient calamity funds after Mr. Duterte extended the validity of the 2019 national budget, which will reinforce the funds on hand from the 2020 General Appropriations Act.
“There are two calamity funds, one that was extended by the President, which is the 2019, P7 billion, tapos ’yung bago (and then the latest budget), which is P16 billion,” he said.