Some 200 displaced families in General Santos City are in a quandary about where to seek shelter after they were sent a notice to vacate a public school that they turned into an evacuation center after their houses were razed to the ground two weeks ago.
A fire on November 3 gutted some 500 houses in a coastal community in Saeg, Calumpang, prompting the homeless fishing families to evacuate to the Romana Acharon Central Elementary School.
“Ginapapahawa na mi diri ug taman na lang daw mi sa November 19. Lisud na among kahimtang, papahawaon pa mi nga walay kabalhinan,” Vilma Ilumbaring, whose entire family was left homeless, told Rappler on Thursday, November 18.
(We were asked to leave by November 19. We’re in a difficult situation because we have nowhere to go.)
Ilumbaring called on the city government to step in, and help them rebuild or relocate them given the notice from the barangay.
But city hall officials said they cannot help the families rebuild on the same property because it does not belong to them, and neither was there an available site where they can be relocated overnight.
City assessor Ronnie Imbong said city hall records show that the Saeg property is owned by seven people identified as Ignacio Dalogdog, Apolinario Dalogdog, Mamerto Rolete, Leon Dalogdog, Maria Teresa Lusaque, Vicente Mirabueno, and Tarong Impal.
Melanie Sobel, another fire victim, appealed to Calumpang’s barangay chairman, Ryan Dupalco, to give them more time to stay at the Romana Acharon Central Elementary School.
“Unta maluoy sila. Naa pa koy gamay nga apo (I hope they will have pity. I have a small grandchild with me),” Sobel said.
Dupalco said the fire victims needed to find a new place where they can stay because the school’s principal told barangay officials that the school was being prepared for the anticipated face-to-face classes next year.
General Santos schools division superintendent Romelito Flores, however, said it was still unclear if the Romana Acharon Central Elementary School would be included in the list of public schools in the city where face-to-face classes would resume in 2022.
Flores said the Department of Education (DepEd) was still assessing which schools in the city should be on the list.
Dupalco said the fire victims were already given enough aid by various government agencies, institutions, and groups, and they needed to start anew on their own.
Even the National Housing Authority (NHA) gave them financial assistance, he said.
General Santos Housing Land Management officer Mary Ann Tan said the fire victims cannot expect the local government to relocate them immediately, explaining that the process would take years.
She said the fire victims knew beforehand that they were living in a titled property and long before the fire, negotiations for a compromise deal reached a deadlock.
“People tend to think that just because they have been living there for years, they own it. Truth is, that’s a titled property,” Tan said.
She said a relocation site developed by the local government at Guardian Hills in Barangay Bawing was already full.
“We’re still planning to buy another property and develop it into a relocation site. To be honest, there is none yet,” she said.
Tan said the city government has set aside P100 million for a new relocation site, but local officials and the property owners cannot agree on the price yet. – Rappler.com
Rommel Rebollido is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.