COSCA’s relief efforts in Taal eruption aftermath

Prompt response in the event of any disaster is critical in saving life and property in the epicenter of a tragedy. The unforeseen eruption of Taal Volcano in Batangas earlier in January took local government units by surprise, impeding efforts to aid refugees and evacuees. Amid sluggish official response, a number of organizations swooped in to provide much-needed aid.

DLSU was among those organizations, mounting its own response to the calamity through the One La Salle Relief Operations for Affected Families of Taal Volcano Eruption initiative. The Center for Social Concern and Action (COSCA), along with the University Student Government (USG), spearheaded the program, and facilitated the flow of donations from Lasallians and the outside community.

Behind the scenes

Annadel Sapugay, Lasallian Environmental Sustainability and Governance Specialist for COSCA, shares that the University’s quick response to the situation was a major factor that contributed to the success of the project. “The day Taal Volcano erupted, schools [were] already sharing information about the status of Taal and its nearby communities,” she narrates. 

Sapugay also credits DLSU for maximizing its networks and resources for improvements in the relief operations. Even before COSCA made a call for donations, the University had already advanced P100,000 to De La Salle Philippines (DLSP), she reveals. The immediate cash donation meant that evacuees received swift help—in this case, the cash went to provide hot meals for evacuees at the Sto. Toribio Elementary School in Lipa City, Batangas. 

Vice President for External Affairs Ronin Leviste vouches for the efforts of the USG, who spearheaded DLSU’s call for all relief operations and donation drives. According to Leviste, the USG led a number of tasks, such as facilitating communication between offices, collecting donations, providing publicity, and repacking and delivering relief goods. “[In] my own personal capacity and on behalf of the USG, I was also working together with the local government units and agencies such as [the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs)] to monitor the situation,” he adds.

Leviste shares that their team received support from organizations inside and outside the University. He also discloses that their team, by February 7, had raised over half a million pesos in cash and over P134,000 worth of in-kind donations through their initiative. He assures that these material aid were personally distributed to evacuation centers within the region.

Aside from the call for cash and in-kind donations by the University, the Tap for Taal campaign also received publicity for its noteworthy innovation. Commuters who use Beep cards could donate P5 with each tap on the machine. Sapugay details that DLSP collaborated with Ayala-led companies AC Infrastructure Holding Corp. and AF Payments Inc. for the initiative.

Planning ahead

Leviste also shares that the USG has successfully lobbied for the creation of the DLSU Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Committee, which once formalized, will be composed of the USG, COSCA, and other departments. Ultimately, it is intended to allow for more organized and sustainable operations for similar projects should the need arise in the future.

“We really intended to form this after all that has happened in the country. [It is] our role and responsibility as Lasallians to be of further help to our brothers and sisters affected by calamities and natural disasters,” he explains.

…the USG initiative “motivated other individuals to also take part and do something.”

Krystine Malveda

Following a significant decrease in volcanic activity, Phivolcs downgraded Taal Volcano to Alert Level 2 last February 14. Some evacuees have since returned to their homes, but it will take time for the affected communities to recover from the damage wrought by the calamity. In the event that DLSP initiates any recovery and rehabilitation programs, Sapugay is confident in the University’s capacity to give aid.

“DLSU, through [its] DRRM Ad Hoc Committee, is in close coordination with our community partners and ready to take action whenever needed. The remaining funds from the total collection will be allotted to help in the recovery and rehabilitation phase,” she adds.

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, over 1,000 families are still taking refuge in evacuation centers as of February 25. In addition, 3,813 houses in the Batangas area were reported as either totally or partially damaged.

Efforts recognized

Although initially unaffected by the volcano’s eruption, John Garcia (I, AB-OSDM) narrates that his family had to evacuate from Santo Tomas, Batangas to Manila when the volcano’s activity did not dissipate. The Department of the Interior and Local Government’s Batangas arm had mandated the evacuation of high-risk barangays within a 14-km radius from Taal Volcano. The city of Santo Tomas, located just outside this area, opened 11 evacuation centers that served as temporary shelters for refugees streaming in from heavily affected areas. Garcia also notes that the presence of police and military personnel “helped a lot in enforcing the [forced] evacuation,” adding that “there [were] no bad news that came out of this other than the eruption itself.”

Meanwhile, both Krystine Malveda (I, APC) and Florenz Howard Domingo (I, CPE) share positive sentiments on the efforts. Malveda notes that the USG initiative “motivated other individuals to also take part and do something for the individuals affected by Taal.” Domingo says that the efforts were a good thing “considering the damage brought [about] by the disaster.”

On the other hand, Laura Lopez (I, OSDM-APC) expresses that while the USG initiative proved valuable, the mobilization and information dissemination could have been carried out better. “I feel like they could have taken advantage of or asked more help from professors and the class [representatives],” she elaborates.

“On behalf of our team, we would like to thank the entire community—students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, and fellow concerned Filipinos—for their continuous support and heart for service for those affected,” Leviste says, recognizing the extent of contributions that helped build up their initiative. “Honestly, it is my greatest hope to continue to see so many service-driven Lasallians always serve, even in our own capacities, by simply participating in initiatives like ours.”

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