By MANLY M UGALDE
LEGAZPI CITY: It’s final! The provincial government of Albay will make climbing and other exploration activities on Mayon Volcano a criminal offense.
Irked by the two latest incidents that resulted in the death of four foreign climbers and their local tour guide, and an accident that rendered a remorseless Russian physically unable to move, Albay Gov. Joey SarteSalceda met with the Sangguniang Panlalawigan last week and decided to enact an ordinance, making climbing Mayon a criminal offense with violators meted at least a year-long imprisonment.
Climbing the volcano with a perfect symmetry had attracted foreign and local tourists despite an executive order declaring the volcano’s 6-kilometer radius a permanent danger zone.
It was not clear, however, if the more than 2,000 farmers tilling their farms daily near the foot of Mayon would be covered by the proposed ordinance. The farms are within the volcano’s 6-km “permanent danger zone.”
Reacting to the proposed ordinance to ban Mayon climbing and the criminal punishment for violators, Cedric Daep, head of the Albay Provincial Safety and Emergency Management Office, said local mountaineers and tourist-guide groups have already registered opposition to the proposed ordinance.
“We need the ordinance to ban Mayon climbing in support of the executive order declaring the six-kilometer permanent danger zone a ‘no mans land,’” Daep said.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said that under the 6-km permanent danger zone order, there should be no human activity allowed under the zero-alert level status.
Phivolcs officials said Mayon is a dangerous active volcano that may erupt any time without showing signs such as the phreatic type that cannot be traced by the sensitive volcano monitoring equipment and gadgets.
Resident Mayon volcanologist Ed Laguerta said even during earthquakes, Mayon climbers are in danger of getting killed or hurt by rolling boulders.
On May 7, Mayon erupted without an earlier signs of danger trapping 28 foreigners and local tourist guides.
Four Germans and one tourist guide were killed and eight other climbers injured.
The incident prompted President Aquino to blame the provincial government of Albay for allowing mountaineers to climb the volcano despite the 6-km permanent danger zone.
Report said the government had spent more than a million to retrieve the casualties and rescue the survivors.
On May 21, another foreigner, a Russian national shocked the province again when he sought for a rescue through a text message to a local resident saying he was trapped, cannot move, with his feet broken while at the Mayon slope estimated at 1,700 meters above the sea level.
The Russian identified as Mark Yuchyugaev, 29, reportedly sneaked into the Mayon on May 19 using an untried route despite warning from local residents of the ban.
According to an official of the local Office of the Civil Defense, the two days rescue of Yuchyugaev has cost the government more than P0.5 million.
Local residents reacted that the Russian should be deported, saying he dared to violate the ban order.
The residents said despite of the dared violation, the Russian was rescued with a speed, attended with his needs, including hospitalization without encountering a punishment.
Former Legazpi mayor now city administrator Noel Rosal said the ordinance is needed.
He also cited the big eruption that occurred lunch time in 1993 where close to 80 farmers in five barangays in Legazpi were killed.
The farmers were tilling their farms near the foot of Mayon very much inside the 6-kilometer danger zone.
The Mayor-elect Rosal said the 1993 eruption did not also had a sign or indication of abnormality saying it was under zero, alert level status.
Phivolcs had described the 1993 and latest eruption on May 7 as phreatic explosion.
Rosal disclosed that then-Albay Gov. Romeo Salalima had filed a class suit against Phivolcs for the death of the farmers who were not warned earlier by Phivolcs of the eruption that lasted for almost a month.
But because of the existing order of a 6-km permanent danger zone, then President Fidel Ramos had sided with Phivolcs blaming the province of the failed responsibility to maintain the danger zone as “no mans land”. – Bicol Mail