At around 6:18 PM of July 3, Jay Araiz, one of the school guards, hurried to the male restroom at the first floor of Del Rosario building as smoke was reported to be coming out of it.
Hours after, at around 8:39 PM, he was asked to cordon the area around the male restroom at the Finster fifth floor after another small fire incident.
At around 10:00 PM, Araiz went back to the Del Rosario building, at the second floor male restroom only to witness the aftermath of the third fire incident.
It was after these three successive happenings that students were asked to immediately vacate the campus for their safety.
“Pag-abot namo sa CR sa lalaki, ang trashcan na plastic nagsiga na ug maayo (When we arrived at the men’s CR, the plastic trashcan was already ablaze,)” security guard Araiz said, narrating what happened when he responded to the first small fire incident.
He never expected, however, that two more would occur.
An incident report dated July 4 from school guard Dapan, who was stationed near the area where the second incident occurred, indicated that he heard a student complaining that she smelled and witnessed smoke from the male restroom. When the guard went to check, he saw a trash bin already burning, and immediately sprayed water to neutralize the fire.
Almost two hours after, Araiz, along with other school guards, responded to the third incident.
When the school guards reached the area, the fire on the wall and the floor of the restroom was already out.
“Wala nagdugay ang siga kay murag thinner ang gigamit sa pagsunog (The fire did not last because possibly the fuel used was only paint thinner,)” Araiz said.
He also mentioned that they tried to look for evidences. They saw burnt matchsticks scattered around the blackened floor.
Araiz also noticed that the high voltage sign on the circuit breaker outside the said area was partly washed out, and thinner was splashed on the floor along with some unused matchsticks. He suspected that someone might have tried to burn it.
“Murag tinuyuan gyud siya kay parehas ang sistema sa pagsunog (The incidents appear to be intentional because they are identical,)” Araiz stressed.
He said that students could easily bring thinner inside the campus because such material is usually used for school projects.
Some people who saw the smoke coming out reported that someone, allegedly a student, entered the rest room, and poured something on the wall and floor before the fire occurred.
Due to the said incidents, students were advised to vacate the campus. However, no fire alarm was heard to alert the students.
“Dili man gud ingon-ana ka grabe (It is not too severe,)” Araiz said. “Nabalaka lang mi kay pila ka beses nahitabo (We are just bothered that it occurred multiple times.”
Fortunately, no one was harmed after the said happening. It also caused no major property damage.
No lead yet
Officers from San Pedro and Santa Ana police, and the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) went to the university the morning after the event to conduct an investigation. The incident was also reported immediately to the Physical Plant Office.
In an interview with Atenews, Evtri Tabanguil, Physical Plant Supervisor, confirmed that the occurrence was an arson incident. However, Tabanguil stated that the police and the BFP couldn’t identify the suspect, for the crime scene was already “contaminated” when they arrived there.
Tabanguil expressed that even though the school guards immediately responded to the incidents, there were still lapses, for they were not able to coordinate with the janitors. By the time the investigators arrived, the janitors have already cleaned the area. Tabanguil said that this made the investigation even more difficult as some evidences have been possibly wiped out.
Apparently, there were no CCTV cameras installed to monitor the male rest room on the first and second floors of the Del Rosario building. A CCTV camera was placed near the male rest room at the fifth floor of the Finster building. However, it cannot monitor who enters the room, as it is oriented towards a different direction.
Tabanguil said that the CCTV cameras could only monitor the hallways and the stairs so they cannot provide a footage that will lead them to the suspect of the said arson incident.
It is still uncertain whether thinner is really used to make the small fires.
Because of the incident, the PPO became more vigilant in observing safety measures. Flammable materials such as gas and thinner were prohibited inside the campus.
Tabanguil said that the PPO assigned non-uniform personnel and security guards to monitor the campus.
The PPO also added several fire extinguishers and fire alarms that students could easily access in case another emergency occurs. They also installed CCTV cameras near the rest rooms.
A wake-up call
“This [small fire incidents] is a wake-up call sa mga guards at sa PPO,” Tabanguil said.
He stated that this is the first time an arson incident occurred inside the campus. He described it as a “learning experience” for everyone. Although there are safety measures, Tabanguil reminded that everyone, even the students, should be more vigilant.
“Tayo lahat dapat aware,” he said. “Tulungan dapat tayo.”
Though no one was harmed in the incident, some students expressed that they were alarmed with the occurrence, knowing that anything could happen anytime inside the campus.
“I am alarmed with what happened kay feeling nako naay kapungot ang tao na naghimo ato, if it is really intentional (I am alarmed with what happened because I feel that the person who did it held a grudge, if the incident is really intentional,)” GT Conception, a second year education student, said.
He added that the incident urges the students to be more aware with their surroundings, especially that these events can happen even inside the campus.