Residents scamper as building collapses
It started with a sharp crack that reverberated throughout the decades-old, five-story building at the corner of Veronica Street in Binondo, Manila, on Wednesday night.
By then, said 24-year-old JM Letigio, a student whose family lived in the decrepit structure made mostly of light materials, they were used to the ominous sounds and the chunks of floor or ceiling that would break off every now and then.
“We had grown accustomed to it,” said Police Cpl. Ignacio Alberto of the Meisic police station, whose family also moved into the building 14 years ago. “It was old, yes, but we had stayed there for over a decade that we never imagined anything bad would happen.”
Crack, then collapse
At 7:38 p.m. on Wednesday, half of the structure that residents claimed had served as a maternity hospital during World War II finally collapsed.
No one was hurt even though most of the 21 dwellers—members of the Letigio and Alberto families—were home.
“The building is split into two: the main and the annex,” Letigio explained. “We do our household chores in the annex—washing our dishes and clothes, cooking, but we sleep in the main building. It was the annex that collapsed.”
For years, the Manila local government had considered the structure “abandoned” given its severe state of disrepair, said city engineer Roger Legazpi.
Former maternity hospital
As a result, city officials were not aware that two families lived in the building owned by William Lim, the residents’ employer. Legazpi also could not verify if the structure used to be known as the Madonna Maternity Hospital as there were no records to back this up at City Hall.
The building, however, still bore signs of being a hospital ward. Its rooms had the old hospital numbers on doors, while the ground floor had the original tiles from when it was used as a morgue.
His family moved in 20 years ago as caretakers of the building, Letigio said. The Albertos followed afterward. Lim never charged them rent; the building was not meant for residential use.
Theirs was an erratic way of life, Letigio said. They tiptoed around the house to dodge loose wood, and were constantly on alert against falling debris.
“We were always careful,” Alberto said. “Maybe that’s why we thought we could go on forever like this, because we were careful not to cause any more damage.”
Alberto said he used to work as Lim’s aide before becoming a policeman in 2012.
By then, however, he and his family had already put down roots in the crumbling building.
With the structure finally ordered demolished by the Office of the City Mayor effective Thursday for being a safety hazard, its dwellers took refuge in a nearby barangay hall with their meager possessions.
By noon, workers were already tearing down the former hospital piece by piece, careful not to cause another collapse.
Letigio, a graduating information technology major, said he salvaged his school documents and thesis first.
“Thankfully no one was hurt,” he said. “I don’t mind losing some of my stuff; it’s harder to live without my school papers.”
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