There is Hope in the Night

NCCC mall Davao City fire

(Photo: AP/Manman Dejeto, File)

Very familiar is this story. Very near is this place. Very hopeful are the people. Very needy of prayers and comfort are the victims and families. Let us get some insights from this reflection from our volunteer writer, Vic Baldevia.

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“Why does the sun keep on shining? Would l be able to sleep up until or even after the funeral of my daughter? I will keep on tossing for the rest of my life. She did not deserve to die.”

It was the anguish of a mother whose daughter was figured in a horrible fire that gutted the NCCC Mall few weeks ago. Her wailing and blurting was an understatement of her deepest and most harrowing agony. Her beloved daughter did not just pass away: she was charcoaled beyond recognition. One moment she was jumpy and joyful, the next she was asphyxiated. Lest anyone forgot, she first got unceremoniously roasted, more severe than the favored pig.

Our sighting from my Matina residence made us certain it was not a small fire. As it bellowed into a giant smoke it became clear it was the good and familiar NCCC on fire. Not just a landmark, the mall has been a destination point to all of us that mumbling a prayer for everyone’s safety was instinctive. As the fire progressed, l scrambled for on-the-spot live broadcast and rounded up the internet for the news about it with which there were few and hardly encompassing. Then l came across a flash report which gave me the most relief l wanted so much: no casualties reported!

But it was short-lived. Halfway through the day, it trickled in that there were many victims after all. My distraught grew by the minute, by the hour. The build-up was faster by the seconds but the rescue operation seemed impossible and worthless. What and where was the snag? The drag was killing me. As the fire escalated to an inferno, the reality was apparent that behind those impenetrable walls the 37 call center agents mostly youngsters were shrieking and running for their lives towards nowhere but dead-end walls. As the clock ticked towards their death and as l gazed at the burning site l could not help getting into the shoes of the cordoned families who rushed to the scene shouting in helpless grief and dread.

It all became surreal to me why the apathy and curiosity of the bystanders and the motorists passing by. Did they not know that at that very moment inside that burning furnace were the muted collective cry for help of the would-be cadavers still alive? Those who got burned alive could have been the loved ones of this excited crowd who by twist of fate were put to death at the wrong place at a wrong time. The walk-in papers they signed were actually death sentence and the posh cubicles they were holed in became fire traps. For the total of 38 who did not make it, their terror was brief and death came in a snap. But what about the mother or the father, the dear spouse, the brother or the sister, the sweetheart or the best friend whom they left behind? As the song goes, “It takes too long to learn to live alone”. My compassionate self joined the sorrows of the families who wondered why everybody could not focus on their agony during those moment. “Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?”

At a dreadful time like this the unexpected presence of someone important was just apt. It happened to be the president of the country. To a crying mother he hugged, it was a gift of presence and solace. Catching it on TV, I felt glad for the families who amidst their tragedy had found an instant ally. PRESIDENT DUTERTE had a soft spot for suffering soldiers and their families and this time around he even shed tears. This is the second time his emotion got the better of him. This time around he is more loved not only by the Davaoeños and a legion of his people than being hated by his adversaries and foes. With him was Msgr. Romulo G. Valles, DD, archbishop of Davao whose presence and prayers pointed to the gravity of the situation.

NCCC mall Davao City fire

(Courtesy: Presidential Photo)

That poor girl could have crawled on the floor to sniff off the remaining oxygen but on the face of terror how can one readily do it and equip oneself with a wet cloth to cover one’s mouth? What the families of the victims want to believe is that their loved ones could have been saved. A lot of had-it-beens has been tweeted and grumbled upon in the aftermath. Drill after drill, safety emergency tips should have come handy (was it presence of mind that made some survivors cheat death, let alone the failed sprinklers and the locked exit doors as alleged?) or has there been any fire drill undertaken at all by the call center outfit at the 4th floor alienated from the rest of the floors barring fire alarm siren, if there was any?

Firstly, the firefighters. One write-up was sympathetic to them, talking about psychotherapy they badly needed because of their battered and remorseful plight; another news carried about their being sacked from their jobs due to certain lapses.

It may be an anachronistic technology for our cause but one hurtful fact remains that there is an awful need for modern safety measures and practices now and forever. This act has long been promulgated; in fact safety standard compliance has been necessitated not only on buildings and tenements and yet hundreds of lives have been snuffed off year in year out. The fact that big edifices like the NCCC got erected blatantly infers something went through someone’s fingers in the license permit office.

In related catastrophe since 1987, four major sinkings of the SULPICIO LINES involving 5,000 who perished has not reached conclusion. Smack of the NINOY AQUINO murder investigation, the MAGUINDANAO massacre, et cetera ad nauseum — who have been sleeping on the job?

Let the public officials, the regulators, the employers, the protectors, the defenders, the critics point-fingers and volley the blame and the never ending lip-serving instituting of reform goes on and on. lt will never bring back to life that loving, obedient, bread-winner daughter of that poor mother.

Yahoo was quick to capitalize on the corruption condition. But we are trying hard to shed the third world image; our present government has rolled up its sleeves and soiled its hands building up confidence and structures. The dirty linen could not just be washed away, it sticks. NCCC was on its way to face lifting, perhaps towards being state-of-the-art and this thing happened. Haven’t you noticed, tragedies has tricked their way into our Christmas family bonding since time immemorial? Timing is neither right nor wrong, it just happened especially now at this season of family joy. Scores of fire incident have torched family reunions not only on December. Typhoon VINTA has just unleashed its fury wreaking havoc on lives and properties; this December alone we lost track of the names of several others before her because they came in close frequency. Remember, how two of our more familiar traumas namely SENDONG and PABLO mercilessly pounded on our nearby provinces. Both devastations occurred on the same month — December. On the maritime statistics, the legendary TITANIC pales in comparison in the number of deaths with that of our MV DOÑA PAZ. In fact we top the scale in the rank of single sea disasters of all times with over 4,386 dead. Interestingly, the infamous sea mishap happened in December 20, 1987. Up to this time this GUINNESS World Record of ours is not yet broken.

In the past there were nasty notions about a certain mall getting away with arson for a windfall on insurance, another one is not so keen in promo plugging because underneath is a gold bar dug-up and a tale about crocodile horde has kept one establishment going strong. Which one is true, which one is crazy? And what about the conspiracy angle i.e. the counter intelligence on destabilization plot or the underground security threat. Anything can blow your brains up.

Gathering myself, I have to take a moment to ponder on the untimeliness and the unreasonableness of all this. During HEROD’s time, why did GOD allow the slaughter of the innocents to coincide with the birth of his SON? Why the life and death during DECEMBER? Or the sorrowful mournings and joyful celebrations at the same time? Why this concoction of God to effect sobbing and loud lamentation? The truth is, we will never be able to find the logic and the science behind this.

Blessed are those who are already on the mainstream of their spiritual reawakening, surrendering is another painful pill to swallow. Remember that father whose daughter was pinned to death by a scaffold at the height of the preparation for the visit of POPE FRANCIS in TACLOBAN? It was with tears of joy that he dedicated his fallen beloved child as a singular opportunity to serve the LORD. When Pope Francis sought for him, the meeting was a scene close to being a divine encounter. Fortunate are those whose faith is borne of suffering, as children of God their reward is ultimate. Between incarnation and resurrection, there is no bed-of-roses short cut, the path will always be strewn with thorns. For those at the receiving end of the overload of tragedies, the burden they shoulder is just a chip off the giant cross of Him who carries. The answer to this mystery can only be perceived through the eyes of faith.

My overreaction is borne out of familiarity and proximity to the scene of the “calvary” at MacArthur Highway crossing Maa. I am not privy to anyone of the victims though one of them was a classmate coming from Compostela Valley of one of my granddaughters. More than ever, it is the compassion that God has gifted me. Putting aside the absence of knee-jerk response over the situation, we have to let “the dead bury its dead” and eulogies have to be prepared and spoken. Prayers and petitions have been offered in the liturgy of my parish and the probe is now on the national scale.

New landmarks and phoenix will rise out of the ashes. As combustible mortals on this paper-like life, we must install the fire alarm in our homes where the flicker of love and hope should be fanned in our hearts, in the workplace and especially in the living room where we should guard against the bonfire of envy, anger, pride and self-interest to burn our families and set our houses on fire. This is the worst kind of conflagration whose irreparable damage gobbles up the souls in the community of hell. And it hits bulls-eye whenever our loved ones get burned, us included. Satan’s potential hotbed is just around the corner 24/7.

Being in the neighborhood, we have stricken intimacy with NCCC as a playground for the kids, the stronghold for the sari-sari stores with its reasonable pricing compared to the high-end shopping malls. How can l forget the mini stampede of the elderly that caught me in the rush to its free movies every Tuesday out to accommodate only 10 senior citizens in each of the four cinema houses. Now it is gone and so with more than a thousand workers out of jobs.

But there is hope in the night, as one song goes. So, let us not give up. There is hope amidst all these.

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Thank you Vic for your story. ‘Til next kwentuhan, higala. Please tune in to DXGN 89.9 Spirit FM’s program, KNOT from 1-3 PM, Monday to Friday.

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