Miriam wants harsher penalties vs fire, building code violators


Posted at May 15 2015 05:10 PM | Updated as of May 16 2015 01:10 AM

MANILA - Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago is pushing for the approval of a bill that would make building owners criminally liable for failure to comply with fire safety laws.

Under Senate Bill 2530, owners or lessors may face life imprisonment if fire incidents in their residential or commercial buildings result in death.

They will also be required to indemnify victims’ families P1 million each.

The bill also mandates building owners or lessors to pay victims who suffer injuries or losses from fire following this scheme:

(1) P500,000 plus the equivalent of one year’s expected salary each if the victims suffer serious physical injuries;

(2) P200,000 to P300,000 plus the equivalent of six months of expected salary each if the victims suffer less than serious or slight physical injuries; or

(3) the sum of the value of property lost, burned, or damaged.

At present, penalties for failure to comply with the Fire Code and the Building Code are limited to fines, the closure of buildings, or the revocation of permits.

Santiago’s move comes after 72 people have been confirmed dead in a massive fire that razed a slippers factory in Valenzuela on Wednesday.

The fire at the two-storey factory building of Kentex Manufacturing Inc. started after welding equipment allegedly produced sparks and ignited chemicals stored nearby.

An earlier report claimed that iron grills on the windows prevented the trapped workers from getting out of the building.

The factory owners, however, insisted that they have been complying with fire safety regulations.

Superintendent Mel Jose Lagan, Valenzuela City Fire Marshal, had also told reporters earlier that the building had sufficient exit points.

Santiago said laws aiming to minimize fire hazards should be given "more teeth" so that they could be feared.

“Disasters such as the one in Valenzuela are unacceptable when we have laws that are supposed to minimize fire hazards and rule out fire traps. The only explanation is that these laws are not feared. We should give them more teeth,” the senator said.

“Stringent punishment will command wider adherence to existing laws, and hopefully mitigate damage, injury, and death due to fire,” she added.

In a statement, the senator also said she will file a resolution on Monday calling for a Senate inquiry on alleged labor rights violations related to the fire.

Groups charged that the workers of the Valenzuela factory are underpaid, without hazard pay, and deprived of social security.

Labor and employment chief Rosalinda Baldoz has also described the owners of the footwear factory as "immoral", saying they illegally exploited their workers.