A fire victim couple has earned the ire of an entire community after being blamed for the August 27 fire that killed five of the couple’s six children. To this day, they continue to ask for forgiveness from the people they inconvenienced.
After Tzu Chi volunteers distributed aid to the displaced families, they visited and offered prayers to the bereaved family. The volunteers gave cash aid along with relief goods, letting the family know that someone still cares for them amidst the fire and fury.
The fire on August 27 in Tondo, Manila ended in tragedy as five children perished in the blaze after being locked inside their own house.
According to reports, the six children of Michael and Emily Gemeniano were left alone at home as they went out on their respective errands. Hours later, Emily returned to see the house on fire caused by one of the siblings playing with a lighter. The fire quickly spread, with more than 20 households destroyed, reaching the fourth alarm before being finally put under control by firefighters and residents.
“We screamed for the residents to go down because the fire was getting bigger. Afterwards, we asked them if anyone was still left inside, to which they said clear. Confident, we turned our focus to another area to evacuate the residents,” narrated Antonio Asilo, chairman of Barangay 91 Zone 8 where the fire happened.
However, residents and rescuers were horrified upon realizing that 12-year-old Mike Twister, 7-year-old Baby Michael, 5-year-old Marcelo, 4-year-old Miel Michael, and 1-year-old Michaela had been trapped inside the comfort room. They were rushed to the hospital, but all five were declared dead upon arrival.
Meanwhile, nine-year-old Mike survived by jumping out the window. He suffered minor injuries.
Catherine Rose Diaz knew the children, as she had cared for them in the past. Her heart sank upon learning of their grim fate, especially Michaela who she spent the most time caring.
“I cried when I heard the news [of the child’s death]. I cared for her as if she were my own, especially when she was ill. I would bring her to the hospital for treatment,” narrated Diaz.
Days following the fire, the ire of the affected families turned on the parents. They blamed the couple for locking the children inside the house. Fearing reprisal from the populace, the family moved to an evacuation center in another part of Tondo.
Upon learning of the tragedy, Tzu Chi volunteers wasted no time organizing a relief effort for the displaced families. On August 30, relief goods such as donated clothes, dinnerware, casseroles, sleeping mats, and 10 kilos of local rice were distributed to 273 families. Local government and non-government groups also mobilized to provide aid.
After the distribution, the volunteers visited the Gemeniano family in their evacuation center and offered their condolences. Aside from the relief goods, the family received cash aid. To this day, amidst the hatred, the bereaved couple continues to ask for forgiveness.
“No one wanted this to happen. They lost their homes and belongings, but I lost five sons. Nothing was left of our home, save for my only child now,” said the mother Emily.
“It feels good to know that, amidst the anger of the people, there are still some who are willing to help us. We’re grateful to Tzu Chi Foundation,” she added.
Amidst the spike of emotions, some like TXTFIRE volunteer Rosemarie Franca have called for cooler heads to prevail. While the family may be liable for the fire, she said that nobody wanted for the fire to happen in the first place.
“We have to remember that the child is just as traumatized, especially at losing his siblings. The same goes for the mother,” said Franca.
Tzu Chi volunteer Scott Go, one of the volunteers who went to the funeral, takes a page from the teachings of Dharma Master Cheng Yen.
“Master Cheng Yen always tells us to love others. Even if they did something wrong, as long as they didn’t mean to do it, we should help and guide them to the right path, especially in this disaster where nobody wanted for it to occur,” Go explained.
At this point, only time will heal all wounds and help people move past the tragedy. The family will likely bear this burden for the rest of their lives, all the more reason they need to be helped. To quote a Jing Si aphorism: “Remain forgiving, even when reason is on your side.”