By Alex P. Vidal
As elementary pupil at the Iloilo Central Commercial High School (now Hua Siong College) in the 70s, I witnessed how families of my Filipino-Chinese classmates suffered when their business establishments, which also served as their residences, were gobbled up by fires in downtown, City Proper.
Some of the biggest fires that razed antic buildings built way back during the Spanish and Japanese period happened in the 70s and 80s. In the early 80s, I witnessed how a female occupant was trapped to death in the upper floor of the burning Sambo Bazaar on J.M. Basa St. Firemen and rescue teams watched in horror as the victim tried in vain to remove the grills on the window until she was burned alive.
Some Filipino-Chinese families have businesses–groceries, shoes, kitchen products, toys, ready to wear items, hardware, among other goods–in the heart of Calle Real for more than 100 years now. Everything that the Ilonggo shoppers needed, Calle Real stores provided. Even original cinemas were located mostly in Calle Real. The emergence of big malls slowed down shopping activities in the area. Moviegoers have also shied away and are now patronizing the more modern and sophisticated theaters in big malls.
The fire that gutted several business establishments on Iznart St. last Friday night (January 24) was in the area called “triangle” where some of the oldest stores in the Chinatown were located.
Some of my Filipino-Chinese classmates and friends who own stores in that area admitted they were constantly on alert and always ready to pack up in case of fire. “Faulty electrical wiring” was always blamed to be the cause of fires in this area.
Some of the recently refurbished buildings are fire hazards and actually need total repair and should have been abandoned a long time ago.
During the time of Mayor Mansueto Malabor, the city council passed an ordinance sponsored by Councilor Jose Junio Jacela and now Rep. Jerry Trenas to preserve buildings that are 80 years old.
Meaning that these old buildings can not be condemned and will only be rehabilitated to preserve their historical values.
It’s time for the Bureau of Fire Protection to make a thorough check of all buildings–old and new–in the Chinatown area to ensure that they are not fire hazards and their occupants comply with the building code.