Fire casts seaside residents’ hope adrift in Punta Dumalag

Aug. 16, 2022

‘ZINC’ ROAD. Children collect dilapidated roof sheets from the fire to sell for a few pesos. (Photo by Catrina Rae)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — A week after a fire gutted a community in Punta Dumalag, Matina Aplaya, last August 3, about 200 affected families not only feel crammed in modular tents, but also feel options are narrow for their future.

The city government was quick to give assistance. The City Social Welfare Office has set up modular tents as temporary shelters in two separate covered courts near Dumalag. It has also set up community kitchens while local barangay health workers provided daily medical checkups.

But there are still some concerns among the displaced families that they want to improve.


Both covered courts serving as evacuation areas are overcrowded. Modular tents shelter two to three families with around eight to ten persons.

Sometimes, these tents become storage for supplies and donations. COVID-19 protocols could hardly be practiced. Residents get to sleep at arm’s length from one another because of the cramped space.

This condition is tough for mothers with newborns and toddlers. Ayen had to leave her 19-month-old child and other children to her mother living in San Antonio Village in Matina to keep them away from the stressful situation in the evacuation center.

TIGHT SPACE. Families who lost their homes in the August 3 fire in Punta Dumalag need to squeeze a few of their saved belongings and donations into a modular tent. (Photo by Catrina Rae)

“This is the first time that I have been away from my children but even though I miss them, there is still a lot to do here, and this kind of environment does not suit them,” Ayen said.

The city government has provided her and other mothers with supplies for their children, but Ayen still asks her friends to donate milk and diapers as the supplies run out fast.

Lack of electricity and electric fans in the evacuation center has affected the people in the center. The aluminum roofing of the gym makes the place hotter, especially in the afternoon.

Portable toilets arrived two days after the fire. But with two toilets serving more than a hundred individuals, some opted to go to neighboring houses or to establishments’ restrooms to relieve themselves for a fee. Water for daily upkeep and hygiene was provided by the local government.

How to rebuild

The residents of Punta Dumalag know they need to get back on their feet and rebuild their homes. But amidst the crisis of the pandemic — the rising cost of commodities, the resumption of classes for students, the COVID-19 pandemic — recovering from the fire adds to their anxiety.

GOLD. Minutes into their search through the mud, these kids are happy to show off their catch. (Photo by Catrina Rae)

Danny, 26, said he had stopped reporting for work after the incident. Losing his home, his family had saved only a few of their hard-earned belongings. Now, his family is separated, some staying in the evacuation area, and most staying with relatives and friends.

“I miss our house so much. I miss my family so much. We are a very close-knit family, but now we are separated.” He said, exasperation looming on his face as he points at the spot where the house that his father built years ago. Now only the foundation of their comfort room remained standing.

Cash aid amounting to P10,000 was provided by the local government to each household. Residents have spent it on rebuilding their houses. But plans for the long term are vague.

Ken, who has lost his eatery, is baffled about what to do. All his life he has been the cook of his family’s eatery. But they have not saved even a single cooking pot. He will have to look for a different source of income in order to live by.

“If we were to rebuild our eatery, it will take almost six months to process everything, not counting the amount of time we will need to raise our capital. If we were to rent a commercial space, we will also be needing an ample amount of money. Plus, we still have overdue debts to pay. We just don’t know what to do.”

Children have opted to scavenge through the rubble and the muck in their former homes, looking for anything salvageable or tradable.

TREASURE HUNT. Children go back to the fire incident site, searching through muck and mire for anything profitable. (Photo by Catrina Rae)

With the face-to-face classes coming in weeks for public schools, parents have a lot on their plate now. Narcisso, a contractual painter on construction sites and a father of three, laughed when asked if his children were already enrolled.

“I’m not really sure, I’ll ask their mother. I don’t know, I mean, how can the kids go back to school? They don’t have notebooks, they don’t have pens. They don’t have the things they need. God, they don’t even have a house! Where are they going to study?” he said despondently.

Riverxian, 14, said: “I have no idea if I will be enrolled on time. We have no house. We have no belongings. My parents are busy with everything happening.”

These uncertainties linger as children look out at the sea on the rubbles that were once their homes.

SIGHTS. For these children, despite the trauma brought by the fire that razed their homes, their lives changing in that instant, the only way to go is to look forward. (Photo by Catrina Rae)

For now, the basic needs of the Punta Dumalag evacuees are being served. However, it will gradually diminish. After a month, the evacuation area will have to be pulled down, leaving the evacuees with a future adrift at sea. (

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