by: Atty. Divina Gracia Lat-Barte
It was noontime of July 26, 2007, Atty. Nelia Martin and I bought our
food for lunch at McDonalds, UN Avenue. We took our lunch at the
mezzanine floor of Justice Edgardo F. Sundiam’s office. His
Personal Secretary Ate Edna Cacacho and Manong Manny Ybanez, later
At around 1:00 in the afternoon, while Atty. Martin and I were having
our usual chit-chat, we heard somebody shouting downstairs. I went
down to check what the hullabaloos were all about and while I was
descending the spiral stairs, someone shouted that we all have to
leave the building because the chamber of Justice Sundiam was on fire
and that the fire was already big. Through the smoked glass of the
Justice’s door, I saw a flickering orange light. I immediately
went up to the mezzanine floor to warn my other officemates about
what I saw, got my bag and left the office with them. After getting
my bag, I started hyperventilating and felt sudden contractions of my
stomach as I am almost 7th months pregnant. The on-set of
panic attack slowed me down from evacuating the office.
As I tried to descend the spiral staircase, thick, black smoke met me
and caused difficulty in my breathing. It likewise blurred my vision.
Out of fright, I was forced to retreat thinking that if I go on, I
might be caught in the fire or lose consciousness and eventually pass
out due to asphyxiation. I hobbled my way back to the mezzanine floor
to catch my breath.
Suddenly the lights went off and the fire alarms rang. I shouted the names of
my officemates for help but nobody answered. My heart pounded
heavily as if I was having a heart attack. It was at this time that I
resigned my fate to God. I prayed to Him that if it is His will for
me to die, I am accepting my fate. I just prayed that He will take
care of my two-year old son Jef and my husband Jobbie. I also prayed
that the good Lord send a guardian angel to take care of me and my
yet to be born baby, if we don’t make it.
A sudden sense of peace then overcame my anxieties. I darted past the
dark mezzanine room and found myself in front of a small emergency
exit window that was partly blocked by a bookshelf in one of the
corners of the room. I groped for the latch, but was not successful.
So, I slightly kicked the window and it miraculously opened. I know
I did not move the bookshelf, but there I saw the justices downstairs
who just got out of the Conference Room. My vision was hazy and I
was gasping for air. I could not clearly see the people who shouted
for me to “jump.” As told, I jumped and miraculously
Now I live to tell the story of how I was saved and given a second life.
To the Almighty God, who heard and answered my cries; to the heroes
of my life who caught me as I jumped for safety (which later I found
out to be Justice Mar Del Castillo, his driver Nilo, Justice Paul
Brusselas, Justice Normandie Pizzaro, his Utility Aide Marlon Brando
M. Quirino); to Ate Edna who waited and brought me out of the
building; to Atty. Martin who brought me to the Manila Doctors
Hospital; and, to all those who have in one way or the other prayed,
helped and extended their concern for me and my baby, my profound
thanks to all of you. May god bless us all.