No law to stop tears


IT is heartening to know all agencies concerned are getting mobilized to investigate the circumstances of the mall fire that hit Davao City on Saturday and give justice to the 38 young call center agents who died while trapped inside the burning NCCC building.

While the Bureau of Fire Protection was inspecting the burnt structure for clues on the cause of the fire and the extent of the damage, the Department of Justice said it would file criminal charges against those found responsible for the deadly fire.

Labor Secretary Silvestro Bello 3rd has also instructed the workplace health and safety agency to check if there had been lapses in safety and security standards.

Davao fire marshal Honeyfritz Alagano reported earlier that the blaze may have started with a spark on the third floor of the four-story mall, which had a furniture section. “One of our firemen has a kid who is an (call center) agent there.” Alagano told news wire agency Agence France-Presse the mall was an enclosed space with no ventilation.

It was painful for Digong Duterte to tell anxious relatives of the employees of the US-based Research Now SSI operating from the New City Commercial Center in Davao City, which he served as mayor for more than 20 years, that the chances of anyone surviving the blaze was “zero.”

It must have been comforting for the victims’ families to see a weeping President condoling with them in this unmerry Christmas moment.

By midweek, the remains of 37 victims have been recovered, raising the death toll to 38, including the first body found earlier. The remains of the 37 victims were found huddled near the stairwell on the top floor where they were trapped by the billowing smoke before the fire was put out.

When the mother of one of the victims found her remains, she welcomed the finality of the government-led rescue and search efforts. “I’m glad at least she’s been found, and the agony of the uncertainty of the search is now over,” the mother said in the vernacular. The bitterness over the loss understandably lingers.

At the end of the investigations, somebody must take responsibility for the fire and the deaths – its cause and consequence. The clamor for punishment is growing, especially as people do not see any excuse for the deaths of poor workers in a mall that ignores safety standards.

The employer and the NCCC building administration should have at least complied and must henceforth comply with the periodic labor inspections required and the standards set for fire exits, sprinkler systems, ventilation, lighting, noise, entry and egress specifications, and a fire evacuation plan.

Labor unions now demand that call centers be removed from malls, saying these operations should have their own separate and independent building designed for human beings working on 24-hour work shifts.

Reuters has quoted the Call Center Association of the Philippines as saying while waiting for a full report from Research Now SSI, “it saw no problem with its members meeting workplace safety standards.”

But the report also added that the labor unions claimed the safety standards were not being adhered to and the labor department and companies were not living up to their responsibilities to enforce and comply.

The VACC has offered to coordinate its efforts with the investigations conducted by the DoJ and the National Bureau of Investigation, as well as to assist the families in obtaining compensation and justice for the victims.

All well and good for justice’s sake.

But the tears will not stop welling for the families the victims left behind. For them, justice delivered by human law helps in the quiet repose of the departed soul. But the yearning for the physical presence of a loved one lost no law can satiate.


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