SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga - Like the "exiled" Jews who have returned to their homeland, Israel, thousands of Pampanga Pinatubo victims have also started returning home to their native Bacolor town.
Bacolor was the hardest hit by lahar flows among all the towns in Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales, with all almost of its villages buried by tons of volcanic debris that flowed through the Pasig-Potrero River system from the slopes of Mt. Pinatubo which erupted in 1991.
Many of the evacuees have opted to return to their lahar-laden barangays due to lack of resettlement sites where they are supposed to be permanently relocated. For years these evacuees have been living in the evacuation centers provided for them by the Mt. Pinatubo Commission (MPC) and other government institutions.
Headed by Art Sampang as its executive director, the MPC was created in 1992 by Congress to alleviate the socio-economic well-being of the tens of thousands victims of Pinatubo-related calamities.
However, not only the evacuees have returned home.
Hundreds of Bacolor families that were already resettled have also been returning home, this time due to the lack of means of livelihood supposed to be provided by them also by the MPC.
MPC report said it has already established at least 23 resettlement sites for the victims of Pinatubo-related disasters in Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales.
Livelihood projects were also put up in some of these resettlement sites. But these were found not enough to accomodate thousands of jobless Pinatubo victims.
Sampang, who acknowledge the fact that there indeed thousands of Bacolor evacuees have come back to their town, said, "Those returning home to their still lahar-buried villages are still hoping they would be able to get housing which we are now constructing for them."
To date, Sampang said there are still about 8,000 families living in the evacuation centers, mostly in Pampanga.
The additional housing projects were initiated by President Estrada when he launched ERAPS 2000 in Malacanang last August. ERAPS means Encouraging Renewed Assistance from Private Sector.
Shortly after the launching, some private individuals or groups immediately pledged to donate either cash or housing units for the evacuees.
At Clark Field, several locators at the Clark Special Economic Zone likewise responded to the appeal of Clark Development Corp. (CDC) president Rufo Colayco for help. Cash pledges from them have already reached P4 million even as others promised construction materials and housing units.
Earlier, Rep. Zenaida Ducut, (Lamp, 2nd District, Pampanga), said the Mt. Pinatubo evacuees who wish to return to their villages would be provided with financial help and construction materials.
Ducut said the assistance is being provided to the evacuees under the "Balik Barangay" program of the government.
The cash assistance will reportedly come from shares of their barangays from the quarry fees allocated by the Natural Resources Devleopment Corp. (NRDC). A government-owned corporation, NDRC has taken over from the Pampanga provincial government the collection of quarry fees from sand truckers.
The takeover of the collection by the NRDC was prompted by reports of alleged irregularities committed by some provincial officials, led by Gov. Lito Lapid, in the quarry operations.
Meanwhile, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said that it is also granting about P2,000 to every family displaced by the Pinatubo calamities who have returned to their villages. Flor Villar, DSWD regional director, however, said that the victims could only get the cash assistance after they secured certificates from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) that their barangays are now safe from future lahar flows.
The DSWD is extending the cash assistance also under "Balik-Barangay Program," Villar said