DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Parallel investigations have begun into the December 23 fire at the New City Commercial Center (NCCC) Mall that killed 37 people, with President Rodrigo Duterte personally assuring families of victims he will back a full inquiry and promised financial assistance to them.
The President was at the Southern Philippines Medical Center late on Christmas Day when bodies of the victims were brought by a forensic team from the National Bureau of Investigation and PNP scene of the crime units for forensic examination.
On Christmas, local fire teams retrieved the last 36 of the 37 bodies from the scene of the Saturday morning fire that started at a furniture shop on the mall’s second floor and spread quickly, trapping workers at the Research Now SSI call center on the fourth floor.
Only one body was retrieved on Dec. 24, as firefighters had difficulty going through the ruins, where huge parts had collapsed.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre on Christmas Eve directed the NBI to conduct a full investigation, even as Davao Mayor Sara Duterte earlier promised the local government would get to the bottom of the case.
This, as Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III also directed the Davao office of the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Center to determine if any violations were committed in terms of protecting workers.
VICTIMS’ EMPLOYER: FUNERAL AID, FUND DRIVE
On Monday, management of the call center confirmed the deaths of its employees and extended sympathy to their families.
“It is with deep sadness that we confirm that 37 Research Now SSI employees were lost in the fire that struck the NCCC mall in Davao City, Philippines, where the company employs 500 in its local call center operation.
“This terrible tragedy has left us with heavy hearts. We offer our condolences and prayers to the families and loved ones of the victims,” said Gary S. Laben, CEO of Research Now SSI.
“Words cannot express how saddened we are. We are grateful for the courageous response of the first responders and others who rushed to the scene.”
The company said it has arranged for counseling for its employees, was “helping to support funeral arrangements, and will create a fund for contributions to provide further assistance to the families of those who were lost.”
Details about the fund will be made available soon, said the statement.
DUTERTE IN PRIVATE VISIT
Past 11 p.m. of Christmas, President Duterte visited the families of Davao fire victims at the Southern Philippines Medical Center to personally offer condolences.
He suggested cremation for the victims, whose bodies had been badly burned.
He said no effort would be spared to find out the truth about the tragedy.
For his part, Justice Secretary Aguirre said in a statement at Christmas that “the loss of lives and the resulting damage caused the need to determine if someone is at fault and should be held criminally liable.”
For this reason, he said, he “ordered the NBI last night to conduct a probe to determine the criminal culpability of those responsible.”
Aguirre ordered on Christmas Eve DOJ Undersecretary Raymund L. Mecate, Undersecretary in charge of the NBI, to communicate with NBI Director Dante Gierran to probe the NCCC Mall fire in Davao City.
The order was given for the NBI to determine the presence of any criminal liability which led to the fire and the attendant loss of lives. The NBI was also ordered to file the necessary cases against any parties determined by it to be responsible.
“We want the NBI to be involved with its own probe. Their findings will enable us to make those responsible fully accountable before our courts via the criminal cases that will be filed. By punishing those responsible, we can set an example to others so that, hopefully, there will be no repetition of these tragedies,” Aguirre said.