A pall of gloom continues to hang over Davao. The fire that gutted the New City Commercial Corp. (NCCC) Mall has cast a sad cloud over the city’s otherwise resilient people. That actual rain clouds intermittently hover and drench the injured city seems to be testing our will.
Tropical Storm “Vinta” dumped much rain the night before the fire, severely flooding parts of the metro particularly Jade Valley. Hundreds of families have set up tents and makeshift lodgings along the side streets. It is ironic that they are “luckier” than those killed by Vinta’s wrath in other parts of Mindanao, particularly in Zamboanga.
But the fire is still hard to accept, and fathom. The 38 lost lives seem to be an atrociously high toll given initial reports that the fire was “under control.” A neighbor in our office even said there was nothing to worry about as she had received word that it was just “smoke” that was already being handled.
Investigations are ongoing, and questions are repeatedly asked: Did the fire alarm or sprinklers not work? Were the fire exits closed? Was it an act of arson? Why did it happen just before the mall opened? Did the mall have the proper fire protocols? How could the 38 who died not been able to escape when the mall was still almost empty of people? Did the arsonist—if there was one—not realize that there was a call center operating 24/7 in the mall if the intention was “just” to burn it down?
To most of us, NCCC was our “go-to” mall — big, comfortable, convenient. Its supermarket was the best in town, offering a wide array of goods with prices more affordable than the others. The supermarket was an “equalizer” of classes: You rub elbows with all sorts of people as you shop—middle-class, rich, poor, youth, seniors. And parking was not a problem for those with cars.
Young people enjoyed the mall’s entertainment and game center. It had the most choices from the usual slot machines to karaoke cubicles. Small crowds gathered around the dance platforms as uniformed students or young jologs tried to outstep one another. It was the hangout place of my two eldest kids and their classmates when they were in high school.
The bowling center was the best in town. Friends, families, even corporate units, converged there to sweat it out, compete, or bond. The cinemas were comfortable, showing films that catered to all types of aficionados. I remember that they even had uniformed usherettes.
Like the supermarket, the department store offered a range of items reasonably priced. We shopped there for last-minute Christmas gifts or school supplies. And everybody seemed to be welcome, like family.
The restaurants, bakery, food stalls and food court had both the regular and unusual fare, with one or two local favorites like Cecil’s to boot. Never mind if it did not provide a discount for seniors.
There was a quick-fix repair stall, a lotto outlet, a pharmacy, and kiosks offering local delicacies.
In short, NCCC had almost all the essentials. But whether shopping or just hanging out, one felt the pull of community, a sense of Davao, a feeling of family.
That is why it is hard to grasp that this icon of sorts in our lives is suddenly gone — and painfully, with all those lives lost with it, on the day before Christmas Eve when its regular clients would have been engaged in a last-ditch buying spree or in holiday reunions, like what perhaps those who perished there were looking forward to do.
It’s eerie to pass the remains of the mall on the road to and from the city. The twisted metal beams especially at the side of the road toward Ma-a stab our fond memories of something that was part of us. The facade, still standing, seems to hide our tender reminiscences and to trap the desperate wails for help of those who died inside.
Their deaths must not be in vain. Justice must be meted out to the fullest degree.
The motley wreaths and bunches of flowers laid outside the supermarket by relatives and other residents starkly contrast with the energy exuded by this once-throbbing edifice. It is as if the city were still in denial. For by now, we would have flooded the steps with flowers, cards, messages and mementos.
Maybe only when this happens will justice be found. And then we can all move on. And let the NCCC of our lives rest in peace in our hearts.