NOT a day goes by when the streets outside the University of Santo Tomas are not filled with the diverse sounds of the chattering students, the blaring horns of vehicles, and the roarings of distant passersby.
Antonio St. is a place where students take time to breathe fresh air—a break from the commotion and raucous caused by the pressures and demanding deadlines of the four corners of the classroom. It is a place where time stops while the world continues moving, with booming food stalls and student-related businesses like computer shops and photocopying centers being the heart and soul of the street.
Quite unusual as it may seem, Antonio St. was hushed and the surroundings that were commonly filled with people were suddenly emptied out as there were no classes due to a national holiday. Holidays always mean a short period of drought for establishments on the beloved street.
A common go-to printshop of Artlets in Antonio St., Copyworld Printshop, is no exception to this drought. However, besides the diminishing number of customers coming in, something beyond human control also recently challenged the print shop.
An incident that began a quarter before five during a calm afternoon struck five houses on Antonio St. The intense commotion brought the operation of Copyworld to a halt.
The rustic yet utile setup of Copyworld suddenly burst into flames, slowly taking away its purpose and life. A faulty wiring from a busted electric fan turned the shop into indistinguishable bits and pieces of fragile and charred materials.
A disaster-stricken day
On a simple and quiet day, the Siongco family—the owners of Copyworld—heard a distinct sound far from the usual daily babbles of their neighbors that was accompanied by the sight of smoke.
Sonny Siongco immediately rushed down the stairs and went out to look for the source of the smoke.
Shaken to his core, a terrified Mang Sonny witnessed the house near theirs get engulfed by bright red and amber hues, resulting in fear-induced sweating and panicking.
The 60-year-old could not fathom what was happening at that moment; time stood still and his feet failed to move an inch as the catastrophe was worsened by strong winds that carried the fire to the second floor of their house.
The fire caught onto the roof, the doors, the windows, the furniture, and the machines, slowly taking away its glory.
Mang Sonny’s basic instinct was to get out of the house before it perished into ashes. The fire quickly spread out everywhere, wreaking havoc upon everything and anything it touches. Copyworld’s machinery and equipment suffered a great deal of damage. Fortunately, no lives were taken and no injuries were sustained.
Mang Sonny recalls frustratedly the details of the incident weeks after, adding that the fire became worse due to the slow response of the fire department.
“Napakabagal ng bumbero rumesponde. Siguro mga kulang-kulang 30 minutes bago dumating, pero may volunteer fire brigade diyan sa P. Noval [St.]. Thirty minutes, isipin mo. Walang traffic sa Dapitan kasi holiday, August 21. Malinis dito sa kalye,” he asserts.
Before the massive fire, which, Mang Sonny lived a serene life. He oversees the operation in the Copyworld and sometimes offers his help to the establishment.
Although he does not directly own the business, it still belongs to their family. Mang Sonny shares that they have been living in Antonio St. since time immemorial and their family started various paper businesses since they moved in.
“Alam ko, bago pa bombahin ang UST, nandito na ‘to […] dito na kami pinanganak. […] Dati bookbinding saka hot stamping. Wala namang [photocopy] dati, ‘di ba? Puro typing, mimeographing ‘yung dati. Nauso ‘yung computer, kaya [nag-photocopying business] mga ‘50s or ‘60s. Matagal na talaga,” he shares.
It has been more than a month since the incident, but the business cannot resume operations unless the electricity comes back and until all paperwork and machines are fixed. But, for Mang Sonny, once the electricity is restored, they can begin anew.
“Wala pa rin kaming kuryente. Kailangan lang talaga ng kuryente […] Hindi sa Meralco ‘yung problema— sa City Hall. ‘Yung electrical wiring kasi, sa kanila manggagaling. Nag-wiring na kami pero sa kanila manggagaling ‘yung clearance, ‘yun ‘yung wala,” he says. “Gusto lang namin maayos, mabalik muna ‘yung kuryente. Isa-isa lang muna.”
Normally, fire victims would be enraged and traumatized after the incident. However, because of Mang Sonny’s perspective in life as an easy-going person, he remained calm and treated the situation with maturity.
“Hindi mo na iinisin ‘yung sarili mo, kasi pag ininis mo pa ‘yung sarili mo, mas lalong walang mangyayari. Hawak nila yung alas, ‘di ba? Alangan magwala kami dito, wala ring mangyayari,” he says.
As a witness to the fire, Mang Sonny emerged resilient with a few nuggets of life-changing epiphanies.
“Mahirap masunugan. ‘Yung iba siguro, nasunog lang nang kaunti. Kami, sunog lahat […] Dapat aware lahat ng tao kasi minsan nga ‘pag nakaperwisyo ka sa ibang tao, cargo de konsyensya mo rin ‘yun. ‘Di mo pa alam kasi ‘di pa nangyayari sa’yo, pero ‘pag nangyari sa’yo, tsaka mo malalaman [‘yung hirap],” he says. F – Syrah Vivien J. Inocencio and Lorraine B. Lazaro
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in Vol. 54 Issue No. 1 of the Flame released Oct. 26. You can read the print version here.