CEBU City firemen are not putting out fires. They merely arrive at the fire scene, fire away their water hoses, and wait for the fire to burn everything down. After a few hours, when the conflagration razed all the houses, our gallant firemen announce that the fire is already under control.

The next few days, to deflect criticisms of their consistent non-performance, they blame the narrow roads and the structures built using light materials so closely to each other.

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But are our firemen also up to combating fires that might hit our skyscrapers? Up to what floor could their fire hoses and ladders reach? Could they save you if you are on the 20th floor or higher and a fire broke out on the first few floors?

The way I look at it, one is safer inside an urban poor area hut because it is easier to run into the street than being in a skyscraper penthouse, unless one has access to a helicopter.

Is firing the fire chief the solution? Do we have enough firemen? Do they have the training to combat different kinds of fires, not just bonfires? Do they lack fire trucks and modern equipment like hydraulic platforms and turntable ladders?

Maybe, instead of buying aging aircraft, Mayor Mike Rama should consider buying a modern helicopter and other needed equipment for the fire department.

Or maybe firing the fire chief is part of the solution. This thought came to mind after a fire victim narrated how he offered food to a group of firemen during that recent giant interior blaze near T. Padilla St. The firemen accepted the food, he said, and began eating right away. Meanwhile, his neighbors grabbed the fire hose to continue combating the raging fire.

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“Talk to the senator in Cebuano, Nol,” said publicist Jen Corpuz during dinner last Friday with Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente ‘Tito’ Sotto III. So I turned to the senator across the table and blurted, “Makamao na man kuno ka mo Bisaya, senator.”

Senator Sotto looked at me, smiled, and said, “Gamay.” He then carried on the conversation with Cebu journalists in mixed Cebuano, Tagalog and English the rest of the night.

Though Senator Sotto grew up in Metro Manila, he definitely traces his roots to Cebu and is proud of it. The senator’s lolo, Vicente Sotto, and uncle, Filemon Sotto, were born to poor Cebuano parents during the late Spanish period.

Vicente, who was a journalist and a nationalist during the Philippine revolution and the Philippine-American war years before he became a senator, was the father of the famous Sotto Law that protects news sources of members of the press.

His grandson, who is now the Senate majority floor leader, intends to expand the Sotto Law to include broadcast and possibly online journalists.

Good that Ely Baquero, president of the Cebu Federation of Beat Journalists (CFBJ), and Banat editor John Rey Saavedra were there and they pushed the idea of a forum on the proposed amendments on the Sotto Law during the Cebu Press Freedom Week.

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Advocates for the scrapping of the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) should think twice. The present system has weaknesses and shortcomings, but these definitely do not justify doing away with it. Instead, we need to strengthen the SK to make it responsive to our goal of tapping the energy and idealism of our youth.

During their time, Jose Rizal, Don Sergio Osmeña, and Vicente Sotto were very young when they began their advocacies for a better society. During Edsa I, the youth was an active participant for democratic change. Today, the SK should be an important vehicle towards reforms.

I was one of Central Visayas representatives (along with Ramsey Quijano, Totol Batuhan, Aye Canoy, Carmel de Pio-Salvador, Marivir Montebon, Joeyboy Holganza, John Cane, Olive Caday and several others) who participated in Konsultahang Kabataan forums that led to proposals for the formation of the SK, the National Youth Commission and National Youth Assembly. Now more than 20 years later, I believe all the more the SK and the youth have a vital role to play in nation-building.

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