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MANILA, Philippines – “Justice for the 17 women workers who died in Novo, Butuan fire!”
This was the call of workers from different sectors who held a candle lighting protest at Plaza Miranda in Manila Thursday following the death of 17 women workers, including a five-month pregnant woman, who were helplessly locked inside a burning building in Butuan City on Wednesday.
“As we grieve the death of our fellow women workers, we condemn the Novo Jeans and Shirts Department Store for their murderous negligence and greed that led to this massacre,” said Nita Gonzaga, vice chairperson for women’s affairs of the militant workers' group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).
Gonzaga said that the workers of the department store toiled from 12 to 14 hours per day with a daily pay of P160.
According to Gonzaga, the women workers were forced to stay overnight locked up in the fire-trap to ensure that “no one from inside or outside steals from the establishment's profits.”
Trapped inside while the fire razed the Novo building were stay-in employees Rogelyn Mantubacan, Jonalie Amor, Judelyn Ore, Villa Rose Dumagpi, Ellenie Ocoy, Prences Grace Sayre, Anniejoy Lagura, Mylyn Lirazon, Pengky Despolo, Jessie Dajuya, Princess Mae Figueras, Irene Baliquig, Hazel Cabaña, Liezel Dalaygon, Jeba Salbigsal, Maribel Buico and Gladys Hope Sabila.
Only three women - Mylene Tolo, Grace Canoy and Vicky Velez - managed to escape from the burning building located at Montilla Boulevard in Butuan City.
“We offer our condolences to the families and survivors of this terrible incident,” said Noel Colina, executive director of the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development.
“Authorities must conduct a comprehensive investigation of the incident and ensure that those who have neglected the safety of the women workers be held liable.”
According to Colina, Rule 1943.03 of the Philippine Occupational Health and Standards outlines the need to have “at least of two exits in every floor and basement capable of clearing the work area in five (5) minutes” and “there must also be a safety plan in case of fire which the workers should be made familiar with”.
The KMU has supported a resolution filed by Anakpawis party-list Rep. Rafael Mariano directing Congress to investigate the Novo management and owners for their apparent neglect in implementing occupational health and safety standards as well as their violations of other labor laws.