UPDATE (February 22, 2021): PHIVOLCS sent a letter to the Los Baños municipality, reassuring that “hot springs and the observed steaming in Lakewood Subdivision are normal and should not be cause for alarm.” The letter further explained the steam came from “long cooling rocks” with residual heat, with the steam only composing of water vapor and carbon dioxide and no traces of sulfur.
Where there is steam in some areas of Los Baños, experts and one community leader claim that there is nothing to fear.
“Ang Mt. Makiling na nasa Los Baños, Laguna ay hindi aktibong bulkan.”
Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) said after a video made rounds online and caused a stir among Los Baños residents.
The video was posted on Facebook and YouTube by Brgy. Tadlac, Los Baños Chairman Ambito “Bobit” Meneses. It showed clouds of white steam exiting from different sewage ways in Lakewood Subdivision, Brgy. Lalakay, also in Los Baños.
“Kung lalapit po kayo, maririnig niyo na kumukulo ang tubig […] Ayan po, maliwanag na napakalakas ng usok. Ngayon lang po nangyari ito,” Meneses said in the video, pointing at the towering clouds of steam.
Moreover, he warned residents of the threat of a possible Mt. Makiling eruption.
“Gusto ko po sanang kunin ang atensiyon ng lahat, na ito po ay hindi magandang senyales. Ibig sabihin po ay naghahanap ng lalabasan talaga [ang steam] kapag ang isang bulkan ay active. Kung hindi man ito ngayon puputok, kung hindi man tayo ngayon nito sisingilin o sa’ting henerasyon na ito…sa ibang henerasyon, ito po ay mamiminsala,” he said.
This immediately alarmed residents, with the Facebook post garnering about 4200 reactions and 9000 shares as of press time. Netizens expressed their worries. One said, “Delikado t[a]yo d[i]yan mga taga-Laguna […] wag natin hintayin pinutok pa yan bago kayo magsisi… [sic]”
Led by the new Los Baños Mayor Antonio Kalaw, Tadlac’s Barangay Councils, Provincial Environment and Natural Resource Office (PENRO), DENR-Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), and the Homeowners Association (HOA) of Lakewood Subdivision gathered for a meeting to look into the matter.
“Para ma-address ‘yung takot, nagkaroon ng pagpupulong kami [HOA] at napag-usapan namin ‘yung pangangailangan na i-consult ang PHIVOLCS. Pero bago pa man namin mai-submit ang sulat, may sagot na ang PHIVOLCS, na wala dapat tayong ipag-alala dahil normal lang ang ganoong steam,” said Rogelio Serrano, Lakewood Subdivision’s HOA president, in an interview with the Perspective.
PHIVOLCS immediately released an advisory on the same day that the video circulated, ensuring the normality of the steaming incident.
“Ang nakitang steaming ay mula sa hot springs katulad ng hot spring resorts na pinupuntahan sa Laguna. Ang hot springs ay normal na makikita sa mga bulkan,” they wrote in their Facebook post.
Steaming as a natural phenomenon
To ease worries on whether or not Mt. Makiling is an active volcano, PHIVOLCS staff personally went to investigate the phenomenon. According to PHIVOLCS’ Senior Research Specialist Ryan Rebadulla, who used a Multi Gas Detector to study air components within the vicinity, gases from active volcanoes were not recognized in the area.
“Nakita natin na dito sa steam, mas mataas ang lumalabas na water vapor and carbon dioxide. Ito po ay mga gases na puwedeng makita sa inactive volcanoes,” Rebadulla said, debunking Meneses’ claims.
In Meneses’ video, he also claimed that the steaming was due to the continuous urbanization in the area, in which subdivisions are being developed.
“Maliwanag po na dahil natambakan ang lugar na ito nang matagal na panahon na, naghahanap ng singawan talaga ang bulkan,” Meneses said, explaining that Makiling’s “natural vents” must not be covered.
However, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) – CALABARZON, after consulting with PHIVOLCS and the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Council, said that the steaming phenomenon as well as the existence of hot springs are only indications of old magma in the area.
Magma is simply molten rock found underground, causing the warm temperature of steam and springs.
In fact, the Perspective’s visit to the site revealed that the spot from where the steam is emitted is in the same street with a hot spring resort. According to Serrano, such steam emissions are anything but strange and menacing. They are normal.
“Lakewood Subdivision consists of about 900 lots, and we expect na darami pa; bawat lote rito ay pwedeng gawan ng resort,” he said.
In addition, contrary to Meneses’ claim that the steam emission has just recently happened, Serrano said that such a phenomenon is not an unusual sight, for it has been happening for a long time and in different places.
“Matagal nang may steam dito. ‘Yung iba sa may bandang ilog, ang iba sa mga resort. Magkakaiba lang ang mga underground ganoon, nagkakaiba lang ang mga temperature,” Serrano said, claiming that the phenomenon is caused by excess thermal energy from nearby hot spring resorts.
The boy who cried wolf?
Serrano likewise assured that people need not worry, accusing that Meneses only sought attention by releasing the video.
“Apparently, politiko siya e, gusto niyang mapansin siguro […] Itong pinalabas ni kapitan na maraming nag-react, sa tingin ko’y ano lang ito, ‘come-and-go’ […] kumbaga, ‘the boy who cried wolf’. Natakot ang mga tao, pero wala naman pala talagang nakakatakot […] He longs for attention, dahil malapit na ulit ang eleksiyon,” he stated.
Serrano further alleged that Meneses made an unauthorized entry in the area. Lakewood Subdivision is in Brgy. Lalakay: out of the governance of Meneses.
“‘Yung kapitan ng Tadlac, pumasok siya rito at naggawa siya ng Facebook post, pero wala siyang permisong hiningi sa’min,” Serrano added, condemning the chairman’s release of an alarming video.
Serrano, who claimed to be a BS Forestry graduate from UPLB, said that the steam emission is nothing to fear of, citing that such phenomenon is natural.
“Ang mga steam na lumalabas dito sa amin ay natural lamang, including ‘yung mga hot springs. Natural ang may steam dahil kailangan ng outlet, para hindi makulong [ang init]… Walang dapat ipagtaka [o ipangamba]. Ang mga steam na nakikita sa hot spring resort ay normal […] I agree with PHIVOLCS na hindi dapat mag-worry,” he said. [P]
Photo from the Municipal Government of Los Baños, with additional reports from Charles Alison Rivera