Scientists and science often don’t get a lot of respect in the Philippines. One survey last year even showed that, given a choice, three-quarters of Filipinos would choose to believe religion over science if the two were in conflict on a given subject.
Our politicians, confoundingly, are no exception, including Talisay Vice Mayor Charlie Natanauan, who slammed the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) for what he characterized as its exaggerated prediction of a brewing violent eruption of the Taal Volcano, basing his counter-theory on that most scientific of methods: some s**t his dad said one time.
The PHIVOLCS is a national agency that tracks volcanic eruptions and earthquakes all over the country. It’s composed of seismologists who, as early as March 2019, were reporting that Taal was already displaying abnormal activity, months before the volcano began spewing hot ash on the surrounding areas and grounding hundreds of flights.
But who are all those scientists to lecture Charlie Natanauan — a man who has risen all the way to the elevated station of vice mayor of a town of almost 50,000 people(!) — on the subject of volcanoes?!
In an interview on radio station DZMM, an emotional Natanauan said he’s planning to ask President Rodrigo Duterte to order PHIVOLCS to reverse its prediction that Taal will erupt violently because he wants his people to return to their homes — which incidentally, are located at the foot of the deadly volcano.
“My plan as a vice mayor is to ask President Rodrigo Duterte [that] the PHIVOLCS’ opinion be changed because they’re just making the news a lot worse,” lamented Natanauan. (Yeah! Those lab jockeys are bumming us out!)
Without naming PHIVOLCS head Renato Solidum, Natanauan continued, “He said the next eruption will be intense and that magma is just brewing. That’s his opinion. But in my opinion, this volcano, in 1965, it erupted. My father said people died back then because they didn’t have motorized boats [to flee the island]. Back then it produced lava, and when a volcano produces lava, that means it’s really hot… Now with this recent eruption, it just produced ashfall, it didn’t produce lava. It means, in my opinion, it’s weakening.”
(We’d be remiss not to mention that despite the vice mayor’s stance being based entirely on something his dad told him one time, he seems to have ignored a key part of his dad’s account: people died the last time the thing exploded because they hadn’t been evacuated. Anywho, back to you, Charlie!)
“Based on the history of this volcano, there will be earthquakes first before it erupts. But there haven’t been any earthquakes,” he continued, before again appearing to refer to Solidum again. “The entire economy of Batangas has been affected by what he has said. He should study this.”
In fact, no fewer than seven earthquakes have hit Batangas in the past few days, with the most recent one yesterday measuring a 4.6 on the Richter scale. Roads within the province have also cracked, which the PHIVOLCS saying is a sign of rising magma. (Hey Charlie, that’s the hot stuff, just for your reference.) Meanwhile, the water in the volcano’s crater lake has also disappeared, another sign of heightened volcanic activity.
But despite the warning signs, Vice Mayor Natanauan remained insistent that people can go back to their homes on the volcano’s island.
“People should be allowed to return because everything has gone back to normal,” the vice mayor said. “What does he want, for all of us to leave Batangas? Is he God?”
“We are all human beings. He is a scientist, but he can’t detect [when the volcano will erupt]. The explosive eruption that they said happened in the past, it’s in the past. It’s now weakening. Look at it, it didn’t produce lava. That means the heat inside is weak.”
“I hope President Duterte announces that we can go back [to our homes] so people can clean up. If we keep waiting for that to erupt, we might end up waiting for a year, and the economy of Batangas will lose a lot.”
(Did we mention that Natanauan’s political role model is the mayor from Jaws?)
As of today, the PHIVOLCS is sticking to its assessment (based on all that “science”) that magma is rising from the volcano and an explosive eruption is still a possibility.
Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said today that they will stop allowing Batangas residents from visiting their homes to check on their pets and property, saying that he didn’t want to risk a situation where Taal will suddenly erupt “and [in a] matter of minutes everybody will die.”