By Azer Parrocha
MANILA — Tourism establishments which have defied a memorandum order to cease operations amid threats of an imminent explosive eruption of Taal Volcano may risk losing their permits to operate and face a total closure.
Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III made this warning following reports that several tourism establishments, including hotels and restaurants, are now back in business even as Alert Level 4 remains over the area.
Alert Level 4 means that “a hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days.”
Densing said the DILG has issued a memorandum order to Tagaytay Mayor Agnes Delgado-Tolentino asking tourism establishments within the volcano’s 14-kilometer danger zone last week to halt operations but their owners failed to comply.
“These businessmen or commercial establishments really did not follow the order. Umaaray naman talaga ang ating mga negosyante doon (It’s really hurting their businesses there) we understand, but safety first before profit,” Densing said in a media interview in Malacañang.
“If they defy the memorandum, we will again direct the local chief executive to close them down, cancel their mayor’s permits and their operating permits and if they continue to operate even in the absence of those permits, we will send the Philippine National Police to close them down,” he added.
Reports showed that at least 16 tourism establishments reopened in Tagaytay City since January 17.
This after Tolentino granted the request of the City Tourism Council to allow establishments to open and serve residents and tourists.
Tagaytay, a top tourist destination, has 2,870 business establishments in 34 barangays (villages).
In its 8 a.m. bulletin Monday, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said eruptions at Taal Volcano have weakened since it exploded a week ago, but Alert Level 4 remains in effect.
The Phivolcs said that the volcano’s main crater, for the past 24 hours, has been characterized with a “steady steam emission and infrequent weak explosions.”
Batangas, Cavite, and Tagaytay City remain under a state of calamity since Taal Volcano erupted last week.
Densing apologized to tourism industry workers for having to cease operations following threats to their and tourists’ safety but assured them of temporary jobs.
He assured residents affected by the volcano’s eruption of temporary employment from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to help out in their communities.
“They can have a cash-for-work program which is equivalent to the minimum wage,” Densing said.
Under the DOLE’s Government Internship Program (GIP), 600 interns will be sent to the towns of Lemery, Mataas na Kahoy, Agoncillo, Laurel, Talisay, Taal, San Nicolas, Balete, San Jose and Sta. Teresita to help local government units in relief and rehabilitation efforts.
Hired interns will work for 30 days and will receive a salary of PHP12,050. The interns shall also be entitled to insurance coverage under the Government Service Insurance System.
DOLE said PHP72.6 million was allocated for the employment program meant to provide temporary employment to residents affected by the volcano’s unrest.
Densing assured that the government would be identifying possible assistance that can be provided to owners of tourism establishments that have to remain closed indefinitely.
“The only thing we can do is talk to them and see how we can relieve them of the pressures of not earning in the meantime. Hopefully, we can have a dialogue with the businesses and see what kind of assistance we can give together with the Department of Trade and Industry,” Densing said.
Taal Volcano’s eruption has affected over 53,000 families or about 215,000 individuals, according to the Department of Social Welfare and Development. (PNA)