Philippines’ Duterte vows to get to truth of deadly mall blaze
DAVAO, PHILIPPINES - AFP
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed Dec. 26 to get to the truth about a blaze in his home city that killed 37 call center workers.
He said he made the promise during a meeting on Monday night with the families of those killed in a shopping mall fire in the southern city of Davao.
“I assured them... that the truth will -- let the truth come out,” Duterte said. “That is what they are asking for. Just the truth of what happened.”
The justice and labor departments have ordered separate investigations into Dec. 23’s blaze.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre has said his office would investigate the fire with a view to bringing criminal charges.
The fire broke out in the four-storey NCCC Mall shortly before it opened to shoppers. But it killed 37 people working in a 24-hour call center for U.S.-based market research firm SSI on the top floor.
At a Davao hospital Dec. 26 families of the dead waited in a silence broken only by occasional sobs as government workers tried to identify the charred remains before releasing them to relatives.
Social welfare officers said that so far, five bodies had been turned over.
Rhen Muyco recalled the last message his 25-year-old daughter Renzi Nova sent the family as the fire raged Dec. 23.
“Ma, there is a fire here. If something happens to me, I love you all,” the phone message read.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said Dec. 26 his office was launching an inquiry separate from the justice department’s investigation.
“We just want to find out the cause of the fire and if there was compliance with safety and health standards,” he told AFP.
The Associated Labor Unions said the high death toll and the extent of the blaze suggested that rules on fire exits, sprinkler systems and other safety measures had not been followed.
Mall administrators have denied that fire exits were inadequate or blocked.
Deadly blazes occur regularly in the Philippines, with fire safety rules often disregarded due to corruption or exploitation.
The fire was just one of a series of tragedies that turned the usually festive Christmas season in the Philippines into one of grief for many.
At least 240 people were killed, with over a hundred still missing, when Tropical Storm Tembin struck the country’s main southern island of Mindanao on Dec. 22, causing floods and landslides throughout the weekend.
On Dec. 24, 20 people were killed in a road accident in the northern Philippines as they headed for a traditional Christmas mass.