Duterte on Davao mall fire: “Let the truth come out”

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte extends his condolences to the families of the victims who died in the fire incident at the NCCC Mall Davao during his visit at the Southern Philippines Medical Center on December 25, 2017. ALBERT ALCAIN/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 December) – President Rodrigo R. Duterte assured the loved ones of the 37 call center agents of Survey Sampling International (SSI) who died after being trapped in a fire that hit the NCCC Mall Davao on Saturday that the “truth will come out”.

“Let the truth come out. Yung totoo lang, ano ang nangyari (The truth only, what happened?),” Duterte told reporters during his visit to the families of fire victims at the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) on Monday.

Families waited for the transfer of the cadavers from the mall for processing and identification at the SPMC by personnel of the Scene of the Crime Operation.

Duterte told families the “charred” remains of the fire victims are better off cremated as the cadavers are already beyond recognition after being trapped in a fire for more than a day.

Responders recovered only one body on Sunday morning while the remaining 36 bodies were found at the lobby of the SSI office on the fourth floor at 11 a.m. Monday.

In a statement Sunday, Gary S. Laben, chief executive officer of Research Now SSI said the company offers its condolences and prayers to the fire victims and vowed to support the funeral arrangements.

“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,” he said.

The SSI, which occupies the entire 4,000-square meter space on the fourth floor, hires 500 workers for its Davao operation.

Senior Supt. Wilberto Rico Neil A. Kwan Tiu, Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP)-Davao Region director said their head office in Manila will take over the investigation but he could not say when it will be completed.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte views the remains of the victims who died in the fire incident at the NCCC Mall Davao at the Southern Philippines Medical Center) on December 25, 2017. JOEY DALUMPINES/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct a separate investigation and file criminal cases against those who may be responsible.

Kwan Tiu added the “superheated” black smoke and the intense heat ranging between 500 and 700 degrees Celsius prevented the firefighters from penetrating the location of the trapped call center agents.

“It’s very unfortunate that every time we attempted to go inside, we encountered so much heat, we encountered very thick smoke, more than what the people could see escaping from the roof,” he said.

He added they did all their best to rescue all trapped workers of the BPO company that occupied the entire 4th floor of the mall.

“We tried to make holes for us to be able to ventilate and have this overheated gases escape, so our fighters can be able to go inside,” he said.

The fire broke out on at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, declared under control at 8 a.m. Sunday and put out at 5:15 p.m. of the same day.

A total of 31 firetrucks, including those coming from neighboring areas, were deployed to put out the fire, he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)