President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines told reporters on Monday that he planned to disregard doctors’ warnings to stay away from the volcano Taal, currently erupting near Manila, and “pee” on the “damned volcano.”
Duterte noted that, after years of smoking cigarettes, his doctor considered it unwise to get close to the toxic ash that Taal is spewing, but he said he felt a duty to visit the affected communities in Luzon, the island Manila is on. Manila is about 40 miles from Taal.
Duterte typically lives on his native island, Mindanao, about 580 miles from Luzon. He flew up after the volcano began to erupt on Sunday, threatening hundreds of thousands of locals.
Reporters asked Duterte on Monday if and when he planned to visit affected citizens.
“I was warned by my doctor to be careful [about the ashfall],” Duterte said in his native Filipino language, according to the Asian outlet Coconuts. “I’ll eat that ash, and I’ll even pee on Taal, that damned [volcano].”
Rappler, a Philippine news organization, added the context that Duterte showed reporters his inhaler while explaining why doctors advised him not to visit locations near the volcano.
“I’ve been warned by my doctor to be careful because this device cannot control the ashes. After many years of smoking, my lungs are affected,” he reportedly said.
Duterte did make his way to Luzon and affected areas on Tuesday, returning and decreeing that Taal island, which houses the volcano, was a “no-man’s land” and that the government would impose strict evacuation measures. The “danger zone” covers a nine-mile radius around the volcano, home to thousands of people according to the Philippine Star.
Duterte applauded the initial government response to the volcano, but has reportedly ordered the construction of larger evacuation centers, including some that may be “permanent,” and insisted on the construction of separate bathrooms for women to prevent assaults in the facilities.
Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana similarly asserted that the government would ban anyone from entering Taal island in the near future to ensure citizens’ safety, and that anything less than a total ban on the island may result in deaths.
“I strongly believe and recommend that we strictly implement the suggestion or recommendation that Taal island will be declared a no man’s land, don’t let the people go back in case there is a more violent explosion, the people there will perish in that island,” he said.
Duterte made his remarks before 3,000 people at the Batangas City Sports Complex, all of whom had fled the volcano. Over 18,000 people total have fled the evacuation area and taken to shelters at press time, but that number may grow as the volcanic ash Taal spews expands over a greater area of the country.
According to the Philippine Star, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council places the number of affected people currently at over 30,000, including both those in shelters and seeking shelter. Among those evacuated are 21,000 children, according to a first response humanitarian group. The United Nations estimates that nearly half a million people live in areas that may be affected by the disaster.
The Philippines is currently at a Level 4 volcanic alert (out of five levels), meaning the volcano may soon violently erupt; it is currently believed to be spewing ash at minimal rates compared to what it can possibly expel. Authorities also warned of the potential of a tsunami caused by the force of the volcano’s eruption pushing out the water around its island.
“I am here to help people affected by the eruption and I would help everyone in Batangas, Cavite, and Laguna until things return to normal,” he promised, handing out non-perishable foods such as canned tuna and rice, as well as cash.
The government is actively warning citizens not to buy cheaply made or counterfeit face masks to protect from volcanic ash. If caught without one, Health Assistant Secretary Maria Laxamana said Tuesday, consider using a wet diaper or brassiere padding as a mask.
Taal is the Philippines’ second-most active volcano and has for months shown signs of potential eruption. Scientists consider the geological event normal.
“Earth is a geologically active world because it contains two sources of internal heat: decaying radioactive elements, and the primordial embers retained from the planet’s frankly violent birth 4.5 billion years ago. This thermal energy is gradually escaping from the depths of the world and into space,” Robin Andrews, a doctor of experimental volcanology, wrote in a 2018 article the Philippine Star cited in a response to an increasingly popular image of multiple volcanoes erupting simultaneously around the planet.
The Philippines has currently not documented any deaths or injuries as a result of the eruption.