Monday, January 30, 2012


The church bell was banging non-stop and there was a commotion downstairs. I went down lazily in my green striped pajamas and asked what was happening. We all went out and people are pointing up at the sky.

There it was, high atop beyond the towering houses are massive black smokes trailing up relentlessly. People are shouting and running everywhere. Then came sprinting towards us was my cousin’s house helper.

“Nasusunog yung bahay sa harap ni Ate Grace! (The house in front is under fire!)”

I quickly went back inside the house, grabbed my bike and hopped on it. Ate Grace’s house is a few kilometers away from us. It was very windy that day and I thought it’s not impossible that the fire might jump onto other houses around.

The scene was pandemonium. Even at a certain distance, the heat of the blazing fire was overwhelming, countering that of the cold morning breeze of January. I saw my cousin, Ate Grace, holding my four year old niece, Miel, in her arms. She was crying as she handed Miel who quickly enveloped me in a tight embrace. She’s scared, I thought.

I tweeted about the situation, made a Facebook status and called someone at work.

The house where the fire started is home to seven families. It was half concrete but mostly old lumbers and plywood. Old tarpaulins with faces of last election runners used to cover the front for some afternoon shade. Seven siblings, with a family of their own, sharing a single house. They have no electricity, I was told. They could afford no more of the monthly bills. Most of the siblings have no jobs, even their spouses, and are merely depending from the mercy of other siblings working aboroad. Now, fire is rapidly eating them up, turning everything into ashes and smokes.

The air is thick with helplessness. Men carrying pails of water are scurrying, trying to splash down the glaring fire to no effect. Children are crying in a distance as they watch their home tearing down in front of them. After a while or so, trucks of firemen came. Their siren sending more chills to the neighborhood than relief.

Then came a man, crying, walking towards us. His name is Manny. He dissolved in front of us.

“’Yung pera ko. Lahat ng ipon ko, wala na. Nasunog na. (My savings, all burned down. All gone.)”

No one muttered a single word as we all watch Manny lament the loss of his possessions. One could probably understand the frustration, having a one year old kid and a wife, with nothing for shelter, nothing for food. He quickly got up, punches the concrete wall with his dank fists as she shouts incomprehensible words. The men pulled him away. Both of his fists went bleeding.

Then a sound of a woman, wailing. She just came from work only to find out her house also burned down. She held her chest, as if catching air to breath with difficulty. She passed out as people shouted for an ambulance. Authorities are shouting instructions. Some are managing the traffic, others maneuvering firemen’s operation. Out of nowhere, a small voice spoke in my ears.

“Tito, wawa. (Uncle, it’s pitiful.”)

It was Miel, my niece. I hugged her tight and decided we should just go inside their house. I gave her to their maid.

People watched from a distance. We all did. And I knew all of us wanted to do something, but just couldn’t think of anything, as if the world stopped for that moment. When the fire is still angry, the smokes trailing up, children, women and even men crying, sirens and red lights trying to drown out the scene.

Then a call, and that time I knew what to do. I composed myself, waited for my cue, and in my modulated voice, I spoke…

“Kasalukuyang tinutupok ng apoy ang may hindi bababa sa apat na kabahayan dito sa Barangay Mambog, Malolos, Bulacan…” (At least four houses are under fire here in the town of Malolos, province of Bulacan.)


Caedite, vexate, ligate vinculis! 
(Murder, harass, bind into chains!) 
Caedite, vexate, ligate vinculis! 
(Murder, harass, bind into chains!) 
Caedite, vexate, ligate vinculis! Saul! 
(Murder, harass, bind into chains! Saul) 
Caedite, caedite! Ligate! Saul! 
(Murder, harass, bind into chains! Saul) 
Vexate, vexate, vexate Saul! Saul! 
(Harass, harass, harass Saul! Saul!) 
Vinculis, condemnate vexate! 
(Chain, prosecute and harass!) 
Condemnate! Condemnate! 
(Prosecute! Prosecute!) 
Why do you persecute me? 
Why do you persecute me? 
Why why why? 
Fall down on your knees, turn hatred into love. 
Turn darkness into light. 
Bow down, Saul! Bow down, Saul! 
Saul, Saul, Saul. 

-from Z. Randall Stroope's "Conversion of Saul" (an SSAATTBB choral piece)

listen here

11 reaction(s):

Nate said...

so this was what that tweet was about.. ang intense lang ng story.. kaloka..

rudeboy said...

That was a very vivid account, DB. I could feel myself in the thick of the panic, the fear, the anguish. Coupled with that music peg, it all evokes the burning of the villages in Coppola's Apocalypse Now, horrific and haunting.

I didn't see it in the story, but I hope your cousin's house was spared from the blaze.

citybuoy said...

It must be so difficult to separate yourself like that from the panic and then having to do your job all of a sudden. whoa...

(completely unrelated) And I was in Malolos last weekend! Fun!

Pipo del Rosario said...

Made me nervous.

Leah. said...

Mahirap talaga ang masunugan.. Mawawala tlaga lahat, unless meron kang maisalba. :( Sabi nga nila, mas mabuti pang mabahaan, manakawan.. kesa sa masunugan, kung saan lahat ay maaaring mawala sa isang iglap lmang..

Hope your cousin's family is safe..

Leomer Apolonio said...

That was intense.

the green breaker said...

I felt for the man who lost his possessions. Fire is worst than being soaked in floodwater or getting strip-robbed.

KikomaxXx said...

tsk tsk what a great loss of possessions but a win for life... salamat at walang nasunog na tao...

Pepe said...

isang linggo ko na itong binabalik-balikan pero ganun pa rin ang nararamdaman ko. the transition from an audience to someone to deliver the news, goosebumps. sobra.

i knows watching news would never be the same for me. and if only news reporting on TV is like this...

adaptedboy said...

"Then a call, and that time I knew what to do. I composed myself, waited for my cue, and in my modulated voice, I spoke…

“Kasalukuyang tinutupok..." — I don't know why but this is the part that gave me the chills.

Visual Velocity said...

I'm sweating over here, hehe


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