MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday night ordered the withdrawal of police personnel within Taal Volcano’s 14 km danger zone.

Duterte expressed concern over the health of deployed cops as they were prone to inhaling volcanic ash particles which may cause respiratory problems.

“I’m withdrawing my police…they have been there for so many weeks already. Puno na yung lungs nila ng abo. Kaawa naman (Their lungs must be full of ashes. It’s pitiful),” Duterte said in a speech during the 69th founding anniversary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Quezon City.

“I’m sure that they have inhaled about one sack of ash already,” he added, noting that they were also human beings who had families.

Duterte said he will leave it to local government officials and local police to enforce laws preventing people from returning to Taal Volcano’s danger zone.

“I’d leave it to the mayor and to the police. Yung pulis talaga ang na-assign dun. There’s a police station there. I’d leave it to them to enforce the law as mandated by the authorities,” Duterte said.

He lamented how police personnel who used “physical force” to prevent residents from returning to the volcano’s danger zone were antagonized for simply doing their jobs.

“They are acting as the bar so that people cannot go back to their lands and places because it’s dangerous,” Duterte said.

“Pagka pumilit yung tao (When a person insists) and the government enforcement guy bars him and he has to do it physically, alam mo ang (you know) physical contact can sometimes result in an ugly situation,” he added.

Even if a cop only barred entry to ensure a person’s safety, Duterte said he would still end up being the “guilty culprit”.

Duterte said it was also a “sad fact” how cops who were only enforcing the law or orders of their superiors would get in “hot water” and be left to “fend for himself”.

The President said that police personnel could only “do so much” in preventing residents who insisted on returning to the volcano’s danger zone.

Earlier, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology (Phivolcs) issued an advisory about the “deteriorating situation” of the Taal Volcano.

This prompted the Philippine National Police (PNP) to consider pulling out at least 13,000 police personnel who were rotationally deployed in areas hit by the volcano’s eruption on January 12.

‘The noblest job’

Duterte, meanwhile, praised but also said that he pitied the DSWD and military personnel for fulfilling their mandate of being the “first responders” during times of calamity.

“I really pity the DSWD and the military. Alam mo ‘pag pumutok ang bulkan, DSWD, pulis pati military (When a volcano erupts, it’s DSWD, the police and military). The first responders. Kung may landslide, pulis pati military, DSWD (If there’s a landslide, police, military, and DSWD). Kung may (When there’s a) tsunami or the one that happened in Leyte, DSWD, military pati pulis (and police). Kung may sunog (When there’s a fire), DSWD, military pati pulis (and police),” Duterte said.

“One of the noblest things is really your job—feeding people and saving lives. The country owes you a lot,” he added.

During the event, Duterte inaugurated the agency’s new Malasakit Center Building and witnessed the virtual inauguration of the completed projects under the Centers and Residential Care Facilities (CRCF) Infrastructure Project of the DSWD.

The Malasakit Building was constructed to enhance DSWD’s operational capacity by providing additional workspace and a comfortable environment for its clients and personnel.

On the other hand, the CRCF is one of the priority social infrastructure projects of the government which covers the construction, rehabilitation, and improvement of DSWD’s centers and residential care facilities nationwide. (PNA)