Sunday, May 09

Bringing comfort and hope

April 05, 2018 | Grace Limbher Daigdigan

Among the relief items, Marites Togonon (right) is most grateful for the eco-friendly blanket for her mother Norma (left) to use at night. Norma won’t have to endure painful joints in cold nights due to arthritis. 【Photo by Grace Limbher Daigdigan】

Story Highlights

  • On March 25, over 700 families in West Bicutan, Taguig City were forced to evacuate their homes after a big fire broke out. Three people were killed by the flames and a fourth was reported to have died from poor sanitation at the evacuation center.

  • Fire-displaced families numbering to 589 received relief items from Tzu Chi Foundation on April 5. The aid was comprised of an eco-friendly blanket, foldable mat, detergent and liquid soap, a pair of slipper, a hygiene kit, a bag of used clothes, and Taiwan’s 20-kilo of rice.


On March 25, big fires caused by faulty wiring razed a residential community in West Bicutan, Taguig City. Strong winds fanned the flames across houses made of light materials, affecting 780 families. Three people died of suffocation, but the disaster indirectly claimed a fourth casualty.

The congested evacuation center was the temporary shelter of one-year-old Ken Villaroel for a week. His mother, Maymay, still remembered how jolly his son was despite the fire.

“Everything seemed to be fine [a day after the fire]. He was playing with other kids and laughing. In the afternoon, he started to have loose bowel movement and I just disregarded it. But evening came and he started to vomit. That was when we rushed him to the hospital,” recalls Maymay.

Ken underwent a series of tests which lasted the entire night. Maymay was advised to have her son confined. As she arranged the paperwork, her son’s fever spiked.

Soon, Ken drew his last breath.

“That time, I was so confused. I didn’t know what to do. I lost everything in the fire, I don’t have a home. Now, I lost a son,” she cries.

Despite the loss, Maymay stayed strong. She had other children depending on her, namely a three-month-old baby who was sick.

On April 5, Maymay received relief items from Tzu Chi, one of 589 recipients to do so.

Bernadette Tacuban, another recipient, has a dozen kids. Her youngest, Elijah, is recovering from his hydrocephalus surgery on December 2017 and the more recent tuberculosis meningitis.  

“The things that we lost in the fire can be easily replaced, but food for everyday is just hard to find,” a gratified Bernadette regards the 20 kilos of rice from Taiwan.


A mother’s unwavering love

Marites Togonon was alerted to the fire by a neighbor’s panicked cry. Seeing that it was close to her house, she worried about her children and her mother Norma. Fortunately, the family escaped the blaze unscathed.

Instead of seeking safety herself, Marites took the risk to save the portrait of her late husband, some appliances, and a gas tank.

“I grabbed the gas tank because it may cause a bigger damage once it explodes. At the same time, I need it for my food business. That’s the only source of income I have,” she shares.

After losing her husband to a car accident last January 2018, Marites started a small street food business. She also offers manicure and pedicure service for extra income. Having to sustain the family and her children’s education is now much harder after losing a home.

Despite deteriorating health, Norma decided to remain by her daughter’s side.

“I can’t imagine my daughter, Marites, alone trying to make ends meet. If this is her fight, it is also my fight. I’ll always be by her side, no matter what it takes because that is what mothers do,” cries Norma.

Truly, the greatest love one can ever receive is one from a mother. Driven by her boundless love, she will endure every pain for her child’s welfare.


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  • Tzu Chi volunteers prayed wholeheartedly for the betterment of victims' lives. They hope that the victims maintain a positive outlook in life despite their loss. 【Photo by Grace Limbher Daigdigan】

  • The crowded situation at the evacuation center forced other fire victims to return to the fire site and build temporary shelter. Some settled at the lot of an abandoned building near Ina ng mga Dukha Church. 【Photo by Grace Limbher Daigdigan】

  • Maymay Villaroel, 27, mourns her one-year-old son Ken who died because of poor sanitation. She considers the hygiene kits from Tzu Chi a big help in protecting her remaining kids. 【Photo by Grace Limbher Daigdigan】

  • At the evacuation center, good-willed people donated used clothes to the fire-displaced families. 【Photo by Grace Limbher Daigdigan】

  • The remains of the residential block at West Bicutan, Taguig City following the March 25 fire. Over 700 families were displaced by the disaster, which claimed three lives. 【Photo by Grace Limbher Daigdigan】

  • The inconveniences brought by the fire forced Bernadette Tacuban to double her efforts in caring for her youngest son, Elijah. He’s recovering from a hydrocephalus surgery and tuberculosis meningitis. 【Photo by Grace Limbher Daigdigan】

  • Tzu Chi volunteer Michael Siao enlightens the fire victims about the impermanence of life by sharing the teachings of Tzu Chi founder Dharma Master Cheng Yen. 【Photo by Grace Limbher Daigdigan】

  • On April 5, 589 families received relief items from Tzu Chi Foundation. The items will help them rebuild their lives one step at a time. 【Photo by Grace Limbher Daigdigan】

  • Marites Togonon (left) is thankful for still having a source of living. She earns Php2,800 a day from her street food business. 【Photo by Grace Limbher Daigdigan】


  • 20180418 Fire relief in West Taguig Bicutan

  • LAST UPDATED: October 27, 2018 13:10 PM