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DILG chief orders stop to 'window hours' implementation for Taal evacuees

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Monday ordered to stop the implementation of window hours for Batangas residents who want to get their belongings and feed their pets following the eruption of Taal Volcano last week.

"Yes, stop na natin yan. I don't see the logic of giving four hours where in fact we don't even know when it will erupt and matter of minutes everybody will die," Año told reporters in an ambush interview.

At a press briefing earlier in the day, Año said the situation within the vicinity of Taal Volcano is still dangerous, noting that the government prioritizes the safety of all residents in the area.

"As I said, hindi natin alam kailan puputok 'yan, as long as we have the alert level, impose talaga natin 'yung lockdown atsaka mandatory evacuation," he said.

Taal Volcano has been on alert level 4 since its initial eruption on January 12, according to PHIVOLCS.  This means that a possible hazardous eruption may occur within hours to days.

Among the areas in Batangas on lockdown due to the prevailing situation are Agoncillo, Tanauan City, Talisay and San Nicolas.

But authorities have previously allowed Agoncillo, Tanauan and San Nicolas residents to go back to their homes to retrieve some of their belongings and livestock for a limited period of time.

The window hours were scheduled from 5 to 8 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m.

Batangas, Cavite and Tagaytay City were already placed under state of calamity.

In Agoncillo town, Mayor Daniel Reyes stressed that lives are more important than possessions.

"Higit ko pong pinahahalagahan ang buhay ng bawat isa," Reyes said on GMA News TV's Balitanghali. "Mahalaga po ang buhay kaysa kung ano pa man ang babalikan nila dun sa kanilang tahanan."

Año said at least 98% of the residents living within the 14-kilometer radius from Taal Volcano’s main crater have already been evacuated.

Latest report from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council stated that more than 200,000 individuals have been affected by the volcanic activity. At least two had died in evacuation centers.

In the past 24 hours, the activity in the main crater was characterized by "steady steam emission and infrequent weak explosions."

White to dirty white ash plumes, 500 to 1,000 meters tall, were generated and ashes were dispersed to areas southwest of the main crater.  —KBK/RSJ, GMA News