The blaze raced through flimsy shanties in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Philippine capital, fanned by the salty seafront breeze, Nally Elariog recalled. Within hours, she and thousands of Manila's destitute lost the few possessions they had owned.
Now, a year later, Elariog, 45, is planting seeds where the debris of the fire was cleared away.
As Philippine politicians wrangle over the fate of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who faces impeachment charges later this month over allegations of vote-rigging, the indigent of Manila's vast Baseco shantytown say they have more immediate concerns.
"There's no time here to think about politics. It never benefits our children's future, not at all," Elariog said. Her attention is turned to the task of starting over.
For four months, she recalled, they found refuge inside a freight container, sharing the sweltering metal cave with three other families and relentless flies. Then a Philippine charity, Gawad Kalinga, relocated Elariog to one of hundreds of new homes being built amid the ruins of Baseco.
"People still need jobs. They need electricity and water. They need money for their families," she said. "But the politicians have their own wars and their own interests."
Although she once made a living raising pigs in her yard, she now volunteers as a community gardener. Her husband, who used to drive a motorized rickshaw, remains jobless after the vehicle's owner canceled the contract.
Nearly a third of Filipinos live in poverty, according to government statistics. Among the countries of Southeast Asia, the Philippines has one of the most visible divides between rich and poor.
A survey this year by Pulse Asia, a research organization, found that lower-class Filipinos increasingly believe the government is irrelevant to their ability to escape poverty. According to the March survey, only 15 percent of the poor think that government help is crucial, down from more than a third late last year. The survey had around 1,200 participants, about 275 of whom were classified as poor.
The survey, which was conducted before the allegations against Arroyo surfaced last month, also reported that 5 percent of respondents who were poor thought legal protest against government corruption was a meaningful option for them, slightly less than in the previous poll. By contrast, 18 percent said the poor were likely to support groups trying to overthrow or change the government, nearly a fivefold increase.
Ana Maria L. Tabunda, executive director of Pulse Asia, attributed this change in part to frustration over rising costs, especially for food. With inflation running at about 8 percent a year, she said, many people are cutting down on how much they eat.
In Baseco, Raul S. Dizon, a former businessman, runs the Gawad Kalinga project with a missionary's zeal. In the Philippines' recent history of driving out its leaders, including the street protest movements that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and President Joseph Estrada in 2001, the lot of the poor has not changed.
"Many people now want to remove Gloria. The problem is not at the top. The problem is ordinary Filipinos. The problem is greed and selfishness," Dizon said, repeating a sentiment common in the shantytown.
Within the last year, Dizon's organization has built 800 modest but brightly painted houses in Baseco, many assigned to squatters whose shanties were destroyed in the fire.
But a vast expanse of ramshackle houses still stretches across a narrow gravel street, stitched together from odd bits of plywood, plastic and metal. The stench of sewage hangs heavy, lifted only when a dank gust off Manila Bay flushes the air.
Three times in the last four years, large areas of the slum have been ravaged by fire. In the most recent blaze, early last year, Diocellio Cendeno, 45, lost the shack he recalled building, one plank at a time.
On a recent afternoon, Cendeno stood perched on a plastic chair, hammering at the metal frame of a partly built greenhouse.
"Some people want to participate in political rallies," Cendeno said, stepping off the chair and laying a pair of hammers on the ground. "But not here. It's a waste of time. I'd rather work."
Though few poor Filipinos look to the government for relief, the Pulse Asia survey also found that, in this overwhelming Roman Catholic country, people do not appear to be turning to religion either. While nearly half the poor respondents said late last year that prayer was a preferred recourse for seeking to escape poverty, only a quarter named prayer in the March survey.