THIRTY-SEVEN families were just counting the hours before Christmas to celebrate. But they were denied that, and the happy anticipation instead turned to tears as 37 died in the fire that razed NCCC Mall to the ground.
On my way to NCCC Mall on that day to attend our church's Thanksgiving Party at the mall's Kadayawan Hall, I was stunned by photos of the mall burning posted on social media.
I hurried to the mall to help with our church equipment but I was no longer permitted to enter.
Thick smoke and tongues of fire were coming out from the and fourth floors of the structure.
It was a stakeout hence as I covered the incident until 37 bodies were recovered by Christmas Day.
December 24, President Rodrigo Duterte came to the scene to see the fire operations and to talk with the families of the trapped workers. It was no ordinary visit by the President of the Philippines as he stayed on for long hours, apparently waiting for developments.
At 4:00 a.m., the president announced to the families that there is zero chance of survival.
Deafening silence followed that announcement before the silence turned to wails of despair ringing through the holding area.
A mass was held on December 25, Christmas day. The same day, dead bodies were found at the lobby of Survey Sampling International (SSI) office where most of the victims were working.
It was a painful event during the Christmas holidays for the families. Tragic as the event was, there has to be a time of healing, thus prayers of healing were offered.