Candidates flock to Tondo fire victims to give aid

NEW YEAR TRAGEDY. Some homes have already been rebuilt two weeks after the fire that razed at least 1,000 homes in Dagupan Extension, Tondo, Manila. All photos by Pat Nabong/Rappler

NEW YEAR TRAGEDY. Some homes have already been rebuilt two weeks after the fire that razed at least 1,000 homes in Dagupan Extension, Tondo, Manila.

All photos by Pat Nabong/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Despite starting the year in burned down houses and makeshift tents, residents of Barangay 155 and 160 in Dagupan Extension, Tondo, Manila, still consider themselves lucky because it is election season.

Two weeks after the fire that razed at least 1,000 homes on New Year’s Day, they continue to receive an overwhelming amount of donations from non-governmental organizations and government offices, international donors, and private individuals. Most of the donations, however, have come from candidates in the upcoming May 9 elections. 

“Sa isang iglap, wala lahat 'yung ari-arian na naipundar mo nang mahabang panahon,” lamented Mario Corpuz, who had lived in Barangay 155 for more than 50 years. “Pero napaka-s'werte ng lugar namin. Walang patid and tulong ngayon, siguro nga nakaugnay sa eleksyon.” 

(In the blink of an eye, we lost everything we worked for. But we are very lucky because we have been receiving a lot of help, most probably because it's election season.) 

AID. Tents, monetary donations, relief goods, and construction materials have been provided by various candidates for the 2016 elections.

AID. Tents, monetary donations, relief goods, and construction materials have been provided by various candidates for the 2016 elections.

Unlike them, Corpuz said, communities in Manila that were previously hit by disasters were given little aid compared to the “overflowing” help they had been receiving over the past few weeks. 

Disasters and politics

According to the residents, various politicians and groups rushed to their aid. These included Bayan Muna, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, Vice President Jejomar Binay, presidential aspirant Senator Grace Poe, former Manila mayor Alfredo Lim, Benjamin Asilo, and former energy chief and nor senatorial aspirant Jericho Petilla.

Contributions have been arriving steadily ever since the fire happened. There are daily feeding programs, sometimes even thrice a day. Residents have received a pile of used clothes, gas, household items, and construction materials needed to rebuild their homes.

Some donors gave from P100 to P1,500 per family. One particular candidate promised to relocate them to a better neighborhood. Corpuz said they do not hope for it to push through because no contracts were signed. 

CAMPAIGN MATS. A poster of a candidate hung on a wall of a house which was burnt down by a fire on New Year's day.

CAMPAIGN MATS. A poster of a candidate hung on a wall of a house which was burnt down by a fire on New Year's day.

Although the fire victims admitted that rehabilitation is easier because of the assistance given to them, a lot of them believe that the candidates did not help out of pure goodwill but also took this opportunity to solicit votes for the upcoming elections.

Based on accounts from the residents, members of the campaign teams of some politicians asked before handing out their donations, “Sino ang iboboto niyo?” (Who will you vote for?) or demanded, “'Wag 'nyo kalilimutan ang nagbigay nito.” (Do not forget who gave you these). 

Others simply dropped off their donations and surveyed the area. When residents thanked them, they replied, “'Wag ka sa akin magpasalamat. Sa 'taas ka magpasalamat.” (Do not thank me. Thank the heavens.) 

“Namumulitika agad eh, di muna tulungan 'yung mga nasunugan,” expressed one of the residents. (They prioritize politicking. Why not help the fire victims first?) 

TEMPORARY ROOF. Men rest under a tent provided by a local politician.

TEMPORARY ROOF. Men rest under a tent provided by a local politician.

Their vote

Despite being aware of various campaign strategies, a lot of them still favor those who made themselves present during the disaster. “[Iboboto namin] basta kung sino 'yung nakatulong sa amin nang maayos,” said Helen Gerolao, one of the residents who lost all of her belongings in the fire. (We will vote for whoever helped us.)

Others, like Corpuz, remain cynical. “Sino man ang maupo diyan, ganun pa rin. Tulad nga ng sinabi namin, magnanakaw, mas magnanakaw, pinakamagnanakaw. Dun ka mamimili...dapat ang manungkulan ay 'yung may takot sa Diyos,” he said.

(Those who get elected are all the same. Just like what we said, you pick from thieves, the worse thieves, and the worst thieves. Whoever gets elected should fear God.)

REBUILDING. Two weeks after the disaster, a family surveys the debris left by the fire that destroyed their home.

REBUILDING. Two weeks after the disaster, a family surveys the debris left by the fire that destroyed their home.

Residents of Barangay 155 and 160 refused to be housed in temporary evacuation centers to make reconstruction of their houses faster. It would take 2 to 3 months to restore damaged properties amounting to roughly P10 million.

Until then, they continue to eat and sleep in their burnt down homes or in tents along the highway while helping one another rise from the ashes. – Rappler.com