Cayetano defends House session in Batangas: It's symbolic
BATANGAS, Philippines – Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano justified the House of Representatives holding its plenary session in calamity-stricken Batangas, arguing lawmakers' compassion and the symbolism of their visit "outweigh" the inconvenience they caused local officials there.
"If you're asking nakasagabal ba kami nang onti, yes. Nakigamit kami ng convention center, hiningi namin 'yung ibang officials na iwanan sandali 'yung evacuation center," Cayetano said on Wednesday, January 22, the day 104 House members went to Batangas City to directly listen to the stories of residents affected by the ongoing Taal Volcano eruption.
(f you're asking me if we caused an inconvenience here, yes, a bit. We used their convention center and asked some of the officials to leave their evacuation centers for a while.)
"But I think the symbolism at 'yung pakikiramay much, much outweighs [everything else]. So if you're going to ask me are we going to do it again, I think we should. Basta't 'yung circumstances, allowed," the Speaker added.
(But I think the symbolism of compassion much, much outweighs everything else. So if you’re going to ask me if we are going to do it again, I think we should. As long as the circumstances allow it.)
Wednesday's plenary session was held at the Batangas City Convention Center, about 3 kilometers away from the Batangas Sports Complex, the biggest evacuation center for families affected by the Taal Volcano eruption.
Lawmakers drew flak for their out-of-town session, as it required local officials – who are busy with ongoing relief efforts – to squeeze in time to arrange logistical and security arrangements for their high-profile guests.
Cayetano, however, argued that Batangueño legislators agreed when the House leadership asked them if they were okay with holding the session closer to the displaced residents.
He added several House members even opted to ride one bus to go to Batangas City, located outside the danger zone, instead of taking their private vehicles.
"'Di ba logistically mas may problema kung 300 kami at different times pumunta dito? Kasi wala pa akong nakausap na kongresista na ayaw tumulong on their own. So by doing mass transpo – many came on the bus – [we lessened the logistical issues]," the Speaker said.
(Logistically there would be a problem if all 300 of us would go here on our own, right? Because I haven't spoken to a congressman who did not want to help. So by doing mass transportation – many came on the bus – we lessened the logistical issues.)
During the session, several evacuees prohibited from returning to their lakeside villages urged lawmakers to help them go back to fishing in Taal Lake, which surrounds the volcano.
Agoncillo, Batangas Mayor Daniel Reyes also said his people need psychological intervention to help them process their trauma from the eruption.
Cayetano already instructed Majority Leader Martin Romualdez and other House leaders to take the lead in coming up with a comprehensive action plan so the lower chamber can help address the needs raised by the evacuees during the session.
The House also adopted two resolutions that support the swift release of the funds needed to help Taal recover, including the P30-billion supplemental budget that Batangas lawmakers are pushing for.
Alert Level 4 is still raised over Taal, which means there could be a hazardous eruption "within hours to days." The volcano's level of sulfur dioxide emission has been lower for two days now, but state volcanologists said a longer trend or pattern must be observed first.
Batangas and its neighboring province Cavite are still under a state of calamity. (READ: How to stay safe during volcanic ashfall)
Thousands of families remain in evacuation centers, while the cost of agricultural damage so far is at P3.06 billion. – Rappler.com