Probes start on factory fire

By Cecille Suerte Felipe and Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at May 16 2015 09:26 AM | Updated as of May 16 2015 05:26 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Authorities have started the investigation into last Wednesday’s fire that razed a rubber slipper factory and killed 72 people in Valenzuela City, while lawmakers want a congressional inquiry on the possible lapses committed by officials.

The government’s Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) started its investigation yesterday by gathering evidence to determine the circumstances that contributed to the tragedy.

An official privy to the investigation said the IATF would question the owners of the factory and to find out the type and amount of chemicals stored in the building.

“So far one of the owners, Steve Chua, has indicated intention to cooperate in the investigation but as of now he has yet to meet with IATF agents,” the official said.

The same official said the investigators have started to focus on two of the three warehouses that were totally gutted while the third warehouse, which was partially burned, was where most of the victims were trapped to death.

“Among the facts to be established is why all the victims were found upstairs on the second floor when they could have accessed the doors on the ground floor,” the official said.

The House of Representatives will also look into the incident with the inquiry to start on Wednesday next week.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, chairman of the committee on labor, said the investigation is related to at least four bills pending with his committee which seek to strengthen occupational safety standards.

“This horrific fire should serve as an eye-opener for employers to be mindful of the safety of their employees at all times. I can hardly understand the high number of casualties despite the alleged existence of fire exits,” he said.

Nograles said he would like to find out if the best practices in occupational safety are observed by factories like Kentex.

He added that after the Valenzuela City fire inquiry, he would push for early approval of a measure consolidating the pending occupational safety bills.

Nograles said he would also seek a report from the Department of Labor and Employment regarding the inspections made, if any, on the Kentex factory.

“Did they really comply with occupational health and safety standards prescribed by law? Why the big number of fatalities? Something is really not right here and we will definitely find out the truth,” he said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said next Wednesday’s inquiry should look not only into the liability and shortcomings of Kentex but also of DOLE and the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).

He said these agencies are supposed to ensure that establishments comply with occupational and fire safety standards.

Sen. Grace Poe, chairman of the committee on public order and dangerous drugs, also called on the Senate to look into the lapses of the building owners as well as other individuals who may be held accountable for the Valenzuela fire incident.

“We have to get a comprehensive and honest assessment to make sure that all officials at fault be made accountable. We have to look into instituting reforms to make sure that concerned government agencies do their jobs and prevent the occurrence of similar disasters in the future,” Poe said.

“Those who have committed lapses in their roles should be made accountable. We will follow through with the investigation,” she added.

Health considerations

A total of 72 people perished in the fire that was principally blamed on poor fire safety standards and laxity on the implementation of occupational safety measures.

Since Wednesday after the fire broke out, rescue workers pulled out dozens of burned corpses from the ruins of the two-story building located along Tatalon Street in Barangay Ugong.

Authorities yesterday allowed the burial of 48 victims at a local cemetery.

Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian said they decided to proceed with the burial of some of the victims due to health considerations for the residents of Barangay Maysan. – With Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero, Rey Galupo

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