Duterte orders withdrawal of additional police from Taal eruption response efforts

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, January 29, ordered the withdrawal of additional police who were deployed in Batangas to aid in response efforts for the ongoing eruption of the Taal Volcano.

Duterte gave the directive during a speech at the Department of Social Welfare and Development's founding anniversary in Quezon City, saying local government officials and police assigned to the affected areas were capable of ensuring order.

"I'm withdrawing my police. They have been there for so many weeks already. Puno na 'yung lungs nila sa abo (Their lungs are full of ash).... I'd leave to the mayor and police, 'yung police talaga na assigned doon (the police who's really assigned there), I'd leave it to them to enforce the law as mandated by authorities upstairs," Duterte said on Wednesday.

Since the eruption of Taal began on January 12, more than 1,000 police outside Calabarzon were deployed to Batangas and Cavite to aid the region. Apart from this, the military also sent troops to help in disaster response efforts. (WATCH: Police uphold duty to others, even while affected by Taal Volcano's eruption)

Law enforcement officials were tasked with evacuating people, manning checkpoints, and conducting patrols in areas under lockdown to make sure houses and establishments were not looted.

During his speech, Duterte touted the police and military for being among the first responders during disasters and calamities. However, he claimed the government could "only do so much" to prevent people from returning to danger zones.

Duterte then said people who wanted to return to such areas should do so at their own risk.

"Mag-alis na kami. Kung gusto niyong tumalon diyan sa cauldron of fire and lava, go ahead. (We will leave. If you want to jump in that cauldron of fire and lava, go ahead). Make it short," he said.

Duterte earlier declared the island volcano off-limits after experts urged for a "no human settlement" policy to prevent further casualties in the event the Taal erupts again in the future.

The Taal Volcano remained under Alert Level 3 as of Wednesday. Despite this, state volcanologists warned now is not the time to relax as Taal's unrest is not yet over. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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