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Legazpi diocese has hands full with Mayon evacuees

Legazpi diocese has hands full with Mayon evacuees

Mayon volcano is expected to continue its eruptive stage, Jan. 30, 2018. BISHOP JOEL BAYLON

LEGAZPI City – Almost overnight, it’s suddenly Legazpi Bishop Joel Z. Baylon’s responsibility to help feed 84,000 evacuees in this city, especially as Mayon’s eruptive stage continues.

“Most of the evacuees are farmers and would not have anything to augment their needs such as viands to enhance rice, noodles, and sardines handed out by government and non-government relief agencies,” shared the prelate in an interview early Friday morning, the 25th anniversary of the fateful 1993 eruption.

According to Baylon, both the government and the Catholic Church in Albay province have been in constant coordination as to the numbers of evacuees that need to be served and the kind of response required.

2000 scenario

He said the Legazpi diocese’s Social Action Center has been responding to various needs since day 1 of the eruption because Albay is prone to many forms of disasters.

“We have devised ways to immediately respond to the disaster victims’ needs,” said the 64-year old bishop. Baylon was a former parish priest in Bigaa, Legazpi City two years after the disastrous 1993 Mayon eruption.

According to him, whatever donations the diocese receives – mats, mosquito nets, blankets, food items – are brought to evacuation centers with a matching evacuee head count. “If they’re only for 85 persons, then we look for an evac center that holds at most 85 persons…. and not more than that,” said Baylon, saying things get out of hand when not all evacuees are given something.

Science and Technology Undersecretary Renato U. Solidum, Jr. said when they explained possible scenarious, they use the 2000 scenario.

“The current eruption may be similar to that in terms of the eruption style of the first phase, Strombolian, followed by a Vulcanian phase,” he explained in a text message to CBCPNews.

Going beyond relief goods

Should Mayon volcano continue its eruptive stage, the prelate said the local Church would be able to help “with minimum capacity,” meaning basic food requirements.

The diocese needs more funds to be able to feed and assist a greater number of evacuees, said Baylon. “Otherwise, if they stay in the centers for some more weeks or even months, our help would be very limited.”

There is an existing micro-finance project in the city that helps farmers plant and engage in agribusiness. The products sold by its beneficiaries are redeemed by the evacuees who have been issued color-coded cards by the Diocese of Legazpi, which will pay for the products.

“No doubt the evacuees would survive on noodles, sardines and other canned goods and dried fish because they’re in disaster mode, but feeding them the person the same food will not be good,” explained the bishop.

Evacuees can get eggs, vegetables, sweet potatoes, and more, using the color-coded access cards. Baylon described the set-up as a “win-win” program for both the producers and the evacuees.

He likewise disclosed that a local mall operator, Liberty Commercial Center, also honors the plastic cards worth Php1,000, even reducing their prices to factory-level costs.

During Mayon’s last eruptive stage, Baylon said the diocese did a skills-inventory survey among the evacuees and offered their findings to both government and private agencies, who may need manpower through food-for-work programs. He said this could be implemented these days to help address the income losses of farmers and other skilled evacuees.

“These days you’ll see women who brought their sewing machines to the evacuation centers and continued their work,” he said.

He added President Rodrigo Duterte recently visited the city and addressed the concerns of the local government officials and of the evacuees.

“The Catholic Church in Legazpi will continue to do its share to help,” he said. With reports from Nirva’ana Ella Delacuz/CBCPNews