By Raissa Robles
Taal Volcano is rumbling and smoking again. So what’s new.
Only a month ago, I had gazed down at its placid but deadly beauty.
I marvelled at this tiniest active volcano on earth.
Among our more than 200 volcanoes, Taal gets second spot, next to Mayon, for the number of known eruptions.
In her book Volcanoes of the Philippines (with an introduction by the late esteemed volcanologist Raymundo Punongbayan), author Maria Elena Paterno wrote about how, in the morning of January 30, 1911, people in Manila were jolted out of their beds as Taal spewed superhot ash clouds and red balls of fire into the air, killing 1,335 residents in minutes.
The violent phenomenon produced today’s scenic lake within a lake.
Taal has drawn not only tourists but also scam artists who have tried to make a fast buck out of it.
In August 1988, a group of businessmen led by the couple Wenceslao and Nora Malabanan was somehow able to title 175 hectares of the 4,357-hectare volcano island with the Registry of Deeds in the town of Lemery, Batangas. A decade later, they started selling shares to an exclusive golf course they planned to build on the volcano island.
The chief volcanologist Punongbayan wryly observed then,
It will be an exciting golf course, but it is a bad plan.
What if the volcano erupts?
He noted that when it erupted in 1911, it wiped out the entire island.
In 2007, a Korean-Filipino joint venture nearly succeeded in building a luxury spa near the Taal crater. The Jung Ang Interventure marketed it as an “eco-tourism project” but then tourism chief Ace Durano stopped it after much public hooting.
Our policy is not to issue any such permit. Because of the nature of the area as a permanent danger zone, Taal is really just for sightseeing.
Even in moments of seeming quietude, Taal is dangerous.
One volcanologist, who had earlier warned tourists to stay away from its steaming crater, drowned himself in the volcanic lake. Aristotle Jimenez and his companions jumped off their motorized banca when the boat engine suddenly caught fire and exploded.
Jimenez was swept away by a strong undercurrent, his companions later said.
Jimenez was only 29. He was one of my sources on volcanoes. He spoke of Taal as one would a lover. He told me Taal had erupted 33 times, probably since Miguel Lopez de Legazpi came and wrenched Manila away from Rajah Suleiman in the 1500s. He said its most devastating eruptions occurred in 1749, 1754, 1911 and 1965.
As I gazed at Taal last month, I thought the volcano was an apt metaphor for life in the Philippines – beautiful but deadly.