‘TIS the season to be merry, and wary. With the recent spate of fires in Bacolod that has seen deaths of children and adults, there is great need to be careful and watchful, especially in crowded, old districts of the city, for onset of fire.
There are a good number of villages in Bacolod, mostly in downtown areas where a combination of old structures, temporary materials made of wood, carton, and other makeshift materials (in inner city and coastal poor villages), and dense purok/village population make their housing fire prone.
Walk around the inner city villages—across the regional hospital, back of SSS, Magnolia, around Banago and many more puroks and you’ll see tangled Ceneco wires, meshed with telephone lines and cable TV. In the old downtown area by Central market en route to Luzurriaga and Araneta Streets, you will see buildings attached to each other, with ingenious mezzanine extensions and added dingy, upper floors with hardly no fire exits. Remove their ceilings and you will see messy exposed electric wires without PVC encasing. These buildings that have seen different city administrations date back to as early as the 1950s, some, even before the war.
One can’t help but ask, how do these buildings manage to escape what is presumably strict implementation of Bacolod’s Building Code. Or is there one specific policy or provision covering these historic, old buildings fronting the Central Market, going around Luzurriaga, and Gonzaga streets?
Then there is the issue of old boarding houses, and hotels (the tragic example of the weakness of Bacolod’s Fire Protection Program was graphically witnessed by many Bacoleños with the recent burning down of the old Bascon Hotel). In June 2016, forty-two out of the 140 boarding houses and dormitories in Bacolod City were found to have violated the Fire Code of the Philippines. The inspection of boarding houses and other business establishments is a year-round activity of the BFP since it is a prerequisite for the issuance of business permits.
Common violations by establishment owners are failure to post the correct photo-luminescent fire exit signages in their buildings, having locked fire exits, and defective sprinkler systems, or failure to install one. The mandatory installation of prescribed sprinkler system for city buildings remain a ticklish issue for building owners. Regarding this issue, the Fire Protection Management Office is mandated to conduct annual fire safety inspections on boarding houses, dormitories and buildings in Bacolod, to prevent and suppress destructive fire. While most establishment owners are aware that those who are operating without any FSIC that in case fire breaks out in their establishment, they will be criminally liable for any injuries or deaths to their occupants.
The FSIC or Fire Safety Inspection Certificate is a pre-requisite prior to the issuance of Occupancy Permit. It signifies that the owner/administrator significantly complied with the standard requirements recommended by the Fire Safety Inspector/ Fire Safety Plan Reviewer of the establishment. Herein lies the “thorn” for most building owners for building permit, and cause for potential graft. For Bacolod City’s “generic”—i.e., applied to all establishments, whether big, medium or small, requirement for sprinkler system lends itself to subjective “interpretation” of the Fire Marshall.
Since I started actively participating in negotiations for the lease of property located in an old, but busy section of downtown Bacolod four years ago, I became aware of thriving business linked with the yearly renewal of business permits. I, myself, encountered this when a fire inspector came and checked out our existing fire extinguishers. All three fire extinguishers of ours were found defective, and were given assurance that if we buy the units from him for replacement, we are sure to have our FSIC released by their office. Our business associate had his own close encounter with agents of the BFP. After repeated refusal to subscribe to the prescribed contractor of a previous fire officer, having his own brand and sprinkler system at a much lower cost, his whole building was “marked” with a sign of being unfit, a fire risk.
I suspect that another modus operandi, applied to old establishment owners, and smaller businesses unable to comply with the city prescribed system of sprinklers, are given leeway to execute Promissory Form/Letter for Compliance, for “arbitrary fee”. These encounters point the need for the ongoing investigations pertaining the recent series of destructive fires in Bacolod, for the tasked city officials to investigate, to look at the fundamental root of the problem.