May 24, 2023
Tzu Chi holds relief operations for Oroquieta Street fire victims
By Joy Rojas
A week after an early morning fire razed 400 homes and establishments on Oroquieta Street, Barangay 310, Sta. Cruz, Manila, the site remained a picture of misery and squalor as displaced families made temporary shelter out of a covered court, the streets, a nearby bus terminal, and spaces under the Light Railway Transit.
Two perished, six were injured, and over a thousand families were displaced by the disaster whose damages were estimated at P1.5 million.
Victims of this latest blaze in the area, caused by a candle left unattended by drug users in a five-story building, quickly purchased hollow blocks and cement with the P10,000 cash aid they received from local government. Yet as they begun the slow and grueling process of constructing new homes over rubble, it was clear that they could use more help and hope in rebuilding their lives.
A total of 72 volunteers responded to their needs in a relief distribution organized by Tzu Chi on the morning of May 21. Facilitated by local community leaders headed by Chairman Roland Gacula, the distribution provided each of the 1,201 families with a sack of 10kg rice, blanket, sleeping mat, shampoo and body wash, condiments, casserole, plastic plates, glasses, and utensils.
“The Tzu Chi Foundation really loves Barangay 310,” says Chairman Gacula. “Thank you for your help.” In 2009, Tzu Chi responded to Oroquieta residents’ call for aid when a fire, also due to an unattended candle, left thousands homeless.
“This type of relief response is not new to Tzu Chi Foundation,” says Jerom Bacarra, a registered social worker and volunteer-in-training with Tzu Chi’s Charity Department. “We’re there to help wherever calamity strikes.”
“I hope Tzu Chi comes,” prayed Sandy Sebunga, an Oroquieta Street resident since 1989 and one of thousands looking to get his life back on track following the May 15 blaze.
A former driver-operator, Sandy lost both his legs when he was hit by a garbage truck in 1996. Since then, the double amputee gets around on a makeshift wooden board with wheels. Concerned neighbors are usually there to assist him, but when the recent fire broke, the 53-year-old was on his own.
“I was asleep when the fire started. Nobody helped me,” he says, his voice breaking from the memory. “It was every man for himself. I had to save myself.”
Like other displaced fire victims, Sandy slept on the streets. Exposed to intermittent rains and the oppressive heat and humidity, he followed a neighbor’s suggestion to go back to his burned home. There, they used tarpaulin to set up a shade and mat for him to sleep on.
In his haste to save himself from the fire, he left all his personal possessions behind. Not that he had much to begin with. He earns little as a massage therapist and receives occasional handouts from his kids.
“What will happen to you?” his worried neighbors asked. “Don’t worry, I’ll get by,” said Sandy.
News of Tzu Chi’s relief distribution lifted his spirits. “Tzu Chi never forgets us when it comes to disasters,” he says. “We’re happy to receive relief from Tzu Chi. It’s a big help for us. I’m thankful to Tzu Chi for the blessings that you bring. Thank you for everything.”
“Of all those who donate to us, we really look forward to Tzu Chi because they are the most generous when it comes to giving us what we need,” avers Lulu Osit. “They are really a big help to each and every family.”
Herself a beneficiary of Tzu Chi’s assistance in the 2009 fire, she saved a blanket given during relief operations. “I left that blanket with my cousin, and every time we sleep there, I remember what Tzu Chi did for us whenever I see the blanket,” she says.
The 68-year-old mother of five had just gone home after a day of minding her convenience store. “I hadn’t even sat down when one of my children grabbed me after seeing huge flames,” she says.
Though the Osits were able to save their dogs, everything else—the store, their government IDs and documents, the gadgets her children use for work and school—is gone, reduced to ashes.
“I cry for the ones who work online and who may lose their job because they haven’t been able to report for work. How can they when we don’t have laptops and internet?” she bemoans. “Another child has an exam in the coming week but has no shoes and uniform. We don’t know what to do.”
Tzu Chi’s presence and help offer Lulu much comfort as she and her family gradually get back on their feet.
“To the heads of Tzu Chi Foundation, a big thank you,” she says. “We always look forward to your arrival because we know that you can help us with our daily needs.”