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Fortune smiles down upon Las Piñas fire victims

March 24, 2018 | Jonas Trinidad

A child represents her family displaced by the March 14 fire during the relief distribution activity at Almanza Elementary School. A total of 625 families received goods such as donated clothes, eco-friendly blankets, cooking pots, and 20 kilos of rice from Taiwan. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

Story Highlights

  • Fortune smiles down upon the displaced families of Barangays Almanza Uno and Pilar Village in Las Piñas City. Aside from receiving relief goods from Tzu Chi on March 24, they will also receive assistance from other groups that will help them rebuild.

  • A single Tzu Chi volunteer’s will to make Las Piñas the newest addition to the growing volunteer family is on a slow but steady path to becoming a reality.


The March 14 fire forced an estimated 1,000 families out of their homes in the predawn darkness. Families were fast asleep, with only a few awake during the ungodly hour. Among the few was the eldest son of Carlota Relox, who was watching the family’s 24-hour store when the fire broke out. Despite a desperate attempt to save their home, the family was forced to flee along with the rest of the terrified neighborhood.

“My store was destroyed, along with the money I saved for my daughter’s coming-of-age celebration. I don’t know how to start over,” says Relox.

The fire razed large swathes of homes in Barangay Almanza Uno and crept up to neighboring Barangay Pilar Village. As Arlyn Balboa and her family fled the creeping blaze, she could only pray for help to arrive soon. Their two-story abode stood alone in facing the fire, total ruin almost certain.

Soon, firefighters raced to her home carrying a long hose. The window of a room on the second floor had to be dismantled for the hose to combat the blaze. Now manned by the firefighters and several residents with buckets, the Balboa residence became the absolute stopping line. The inferno on March 14 would claim no house beyond that point. And through heroic efforts, the house was spared.

Grateful, Balboa spared any cash she could for the benefit of her neighbors who lost their homes. She and Relox were among the 625 recipient families of relief goods from Tzu Chi, distributed at Almanza Elementary School on March 24.

“Although small, my donation will go a long way helping others in need. For example, those suffering from cataracts can benefit from just a peso,” Balboa says, learning about Tzu Chi’s free eye clinic.

Despite one person perishing in the blaze, the survivors are lucky to have fortune smiling down upon them. Had it not been for her son awake at the time, evacuation might have come too late for the Relox family. Had it not been for the timely arrival of firefighters, the Balboa residence might have been reduced to ashes. And love and care from Tzu Chi volunteers, hailing from far-flung places, will ensure comfortable days ahead as they rebuild.

“[Tzu Chi volunteers] came to the office and told us they would give 20 kilos of rice, but we were surprised when they gave additional goods like sleeping mats, toothpaste, blankets, and more,” says Rogelio Alejandro, Barangay Almanza Uno chairman.

Alejandro also adds that the city government has made plans to rehabilitate the land for displaced families to resettle. Each qualified beneficiary would get an equal share of the 10,000 square-meter lot.


A new community

While Tzu Chi has conducted several relief missions in the southerly city, it has yet to establish a formal presence. Unlike Barangay Tatalon in Quezon City, as well as Barangays Nangka, Malanday, and Tumana in Marikina City, Las Piñas has no official volunteer group in place.

Coordination of relief activities in the city falls in the hands of a single volunteer, Ingracia Borbe, who’s also a resident. Having served in relief activities in Tacloban after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), she desires for her hometown to become Tzu Chi’s newest volunteer community.

“We need to have volunteers in every area because these volunteers will encourage people to help each other in times of crisis,” says Borbe.

Tzu Chi volunteers are grouped by their respective villages. Volunteers in one village constitute a single group, which can be called upon for relief activities within and outside their jurisdiction. Several groups in one city constitute a larger group. Marikina, for instance, has at least three volunteer communities, which consist of several groups.

Already, Borbe has been in touch with a group in Barangay Talon Dos who has expressed its willingness to be the first volunteers. The community received relief aid from Tzu Chi when their neighborhood was razed last year. And with Alejandro’s blessing, she plans to raise another group at Barangay Almanza Uno.

“I’m encouraging the locals to form a group that would, like the group at Barangay Tatalon [in Quezon City], help disaster victims,” Borbe adds.

  • The beneficiaries cram inside the school’s open air auditorium, lending an ear to Tzu Chi volunteer Manny Go. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The beneficiaries get a feel of the texture of the eco-friendly blanket made in Taiwan. Fabricated out of recycled PET bottles, the blanket will ensure warm nights for them. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Tzu Chi volunteer Manny Go leads his fellow volunteers in performing “One Family.” 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Although her home survived the fire, it sustained some damages so Arlyn Balboa receives relief aid along with her neighbors who were less fortunate. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Tzu Chi volunteer Ingracia Borbe (left) meets Barangay Almanza Uno chairman Rogelio Alejandro (right) during the distribution. Borbe, a resident of Las Piñas, has been in talks with the chairman about starting a core group of volunteers in the community. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The devastation came close to the Balboa residence in Barangay Pilar Village. During the fire, firefighters and residents stood firm and fought the blaze to a standstill. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The remains of the March 14 fire stretch across the horizon. According to official reports, the fire began from an unattended rice cooker. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Two affected residents bring their relief goods home, even though it has been razed along with most of the compound. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Carlota Relox (left) gives a tour of her burned home, close to ground zero. Her store, along with her savings, were burned to ashes. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】