Probe must find a coherent explanation of the Davao City mall tragedy


THERE are many compelling reasons why the current government effort to determine the facts and the truth of what really happened at the Davao City NCCC mall fire must not fail to find satisfactory answers and explanations.

High among the reasons is the fact that 38 young people perished in the disaster and so many families were stricken. Many of the stories, especially of young couples just starting their families, are heartbreaking.

The deadly fire must also be seen against the hard reality that it is one of a series of tragedies that fortuitously struck our country during Christmastime, dimming a festive season with sadness. We know institutionally how to handle natural and man-made disasters.

It is not irrelevant that this tragedy happened in the home city of President Rodrigo Duterte, and in the premier city of the Philippine South – Davao City.

Finally, it is significant that all the victims of the blaze were young workers in the callcenter facility in Davao City of a US market research firm. Business process outsourcing (BPO) is a major industry in the Philippines, generating some $25 billion a year in revenues.

All these circumstances naturally add to national and international interest in the probe for a coherent explanation and resolution of this dreadful tragedy.

The public will not be satisfied with just random and anecdotal reports in the media about what and how the tragedy happened. Public interest will not stop with just the harrowing tales of those who died and those who survived the disaster.

More important for many is why. What caused the tragedy? Did building safety negligence or violation of regulations figure in this presumably preventable disaster?

President Duterte, while visiting and condoling with the families of the victims, vowed Tuesday to get to the truth about the deadly blaze.

“I assured them… that the truth will come out,” the President said. “That is what they are asking for. Just the truth of what happened.”

The justice and labor departments have ordered separate investigations into the disaster.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd has said the justice department would investigate with a view to bringing criminal charges against those who are liable or culpable.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said Tuesday the labor department was launching an inquiry separate from the justice department’s investigation.

“We want to find out the cause of the fire and if there was compliance with safety and health standards,” he said. An association of labor unions declared that the high death toll and the extent of the blaze suggest that rules and regulations governing fire exits, sprinkler systems and other safety measures were not followed.

For her part, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio told the media that the city government would press charges if warranted by the results of the investigations.

At this point, the bare facts of the disaster are spare and not fully connected.

The fire broke out in the four-story NCCC Mall shortly before it opened to shoppers on Saturday, December 23. But the blaze killed 37 people who were working in a 24-hour call center for US-based market research firm SSI, that was located on the top floor of the building.

It is commendable that at this point work has proceeded to professionally identify the charred remains of the victims. Proper steps are being followed before the remains are released to relatives.

Meanwhile, the public has to content itself with some of the stories coming from the heart of the tragedy, like that of 25-year-old Renzi Nova, who spoke to her family as the fire raged last Saturday.

She told her mother by mobile phone: “Ma, there is a fire here. If something happens to me, I love you all.”

The tragedy does not stop with the living mourning the dead.

In the piercing words of the ancient Greek tragedian Aeschylus: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

Would that a successful inquiry into the Davao City blaze bring such wisdom.


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