DESPITE resistance from some of the affected residents, a Cebu City Hall team managed to clear yesterday a fire scene in Sitio Avocado in Barangay Lahug.
Acting Mayor Edgardo Labella rushed to the area yesterday morning after the City’s clearing team led by Harold Alcontin of the Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (CCDRRMO) were allegedly blocked when they were about to start the clearing operation.
A few minutes after the confrontation started, Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos, a former barangay captain of Lahug, and some barangay officials arrived to clarify things.
For its part, the Archdiocese of Cebu plans to send its charity arm to help those who lost their homes in Lahug the day after Christmas.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma said he plans to request Caritas Cebu to coordinate with affected residents. During their Christmas party for Cebu’s clergy, he also plans to ask the priests to donate something for the fire survivors.
Also yesterday, an official said that firefighters in Lahug Fire Substation did not commit any lapse while trying to put out the fire across their station last Saturday night.
Cebu City Fire Marshall Rogelio Bongabong Jr. said the four firemen on duty acted immediately after a resident knocked on the station and reported there was a fire in Sitio Avocado.
By then, the blaze was already huge.
No one among the fire victims rushed to the station as soon as the flames began eating up the house of Rosemarie Villarin, where it was believed to have started, Bongabong learned.
Affected residents initially opposed yesterday the clearing operation, the first step of the re-blocking that will be implemented in the fire scene. They had been allegedly told that some of them would be displaced from the government-owned lot.
“Alcontin asked for my assistance, so I went there. I told the residents that it is for their own good because it is the policy of the City Government not to dislocate them. At the same time, we have to insist on the re-blocking,” Labella said.
A re-blocking is intended to make interior parts of neighborhoods easier to reach during emergencies. It is usually ordered in fire-struck communities.
The acting mayor called the police for assistance to prevent any untoward incident in the area.
Councilor Dave Tumulak also went to the area to help pacify the residents.
Tumulak, who presides over the Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (CCDRRMC), said he felt the need to explain to the fire survivors the danger of failing to clear the fire site right away.
“I will call another meeting with them because it’s part of the disaster risk reduction program,” he said.
When the City re-blocks a community, public facilities such as access roads, open spaces and a health facility, among others, will be established.
The remaining space in the fire scene will then be equally distributed among the affected families.
City has done re-blocking in several barangays like Lorega, Tejero and Ermita, where the living conditions of residents improved.
Aside from reports that residents would be displaced, barangay officials also claimed they were not consulted on the City’s plans for the area, which Acting Mayor Labella denied.
Labella said that immediately after the fire, he called for a meeting with some City Hall department heads, CCDRRMC, and the acting barangay captain of Lahug, who sent Sammy Heron as her representative.
Sought for comment, de los Santos said she did not obstruct the clearing operation but was just asking them to temporarily put it on hold because some of the affected residents did not support the plan.
“I tried to call Labella many times but to no avail. Texted him twice but got no response before I asked to temporarily stop the clearing. The City did not have the courtesy of coordinating with the barangay officials in doing the clearing, contrary to what Labella claimed,” she added.
Meanwhile, speaking after he met with some Lahug fire officers, Fire Marshall Bongabong said he found no fault on the part of the firefighters.
“Those were mere allegations (that they responded late). Dili sad tinuod ilang giingon sa uban nga basin nagtagay ni sila sa sulod kay dili man ni sila manginomay (The allegation that my men were drinking wasn’t true because I know they’re not drunkards),” he told Sun.Star Cebu.
If residents thought that the station’s fire truck wasn’t sent fast enough to the fire scene, they should know it was already a 21-year-old truck, which cannot be used unless one pumps air pressure into its engine for at least a minute.
He said three of the nine serviceable and functioning fire trucks of the Cebu City Fire Department are like that. These should have been replaced by newer trucks but the National Government has not given the fire department a new one since 2012.
READ: Cebu City Fire Dep’t has 16 fire trucks, only 9 can carry water
Bongabong’s meeting with the Lahug firefighters also stirred another angle as to the possible start of the fire. He learned that some residents accused a male neighbor of threatening to burn the community last Christmas Day.
Bongabong said he is eager to get to the bottom of the incident because “that was a huge fire, affecting hundreds of people.”