Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vows to get to truth of deadly Davao mall blaze

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (centre) with the bodies of the victims killed in a blaze at a shopping mall in Davao, Philippines, on Dec 25, 2017.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (centre) with the bodies of the victims killed in a blaze at a shopping mall in Davao, Philippines, on Dec 25, 2017.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

DAVAO, PHILIPPINES (AFP) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed on Tuesday (Dec 26) to get to the truth about a blaze in his home city that killed 37 call centre workers.

He said he made the promise during a meeting on Monday night with the families of those killed in a shopping mall fire in the southern city of Davao.

"That is what they are asking for. Just the truth of what happened," he said. The justice and labour departments have ordered separate investigations into Saturday's blaze.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre has said his office would investigate with a view to bringing criminal charges.

A spokesman for Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, the daughter of the President, also quoted her as promising to press charges if the results of the investigation warranted them.

The fire broke out in the four-storey NCCC Mall shortly before it opened to shoppers. But it killed 37 people working in a 24-hour call centre for US-based market research firm SSI on the top floor.

At a Davao hospital on Tuesday, families of the dead waited in a silence broken only by occasional sobs as government workers tried to identify the charred remains before releasing them to relatives.

Social welfare officers said that so far, five bodies had been turned over.

Rhen Muyco recalled the last words his 25-year-old daughter Renzi Nova spoke to her family as the fire raged on Saturday.

"Ma, there is a fire here. If something happens to me, I love you all," she said by mobile phone.

Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello said on Tuesday that his office was launching an inquiry separate from the justice department's investigation.


"We just want to find out the cause of the fire and if there was compliance with safety and health standards," he told news agency Agence France-Presse.

The Associated Labour Unions said the high death toll and the extent of the blaze suggested that rules on fire exits, sprinkler systems and other safety measures had not been followed.

Mall administrators have denied that fire exits were inadequate or blocked.

Deadly blazes occur regularly in the Philippines, with fire safety rules often disregarded due to corruption or exploitation.

The fire was just one of a series of tragedies that turned the usually festive Christmas season in the Philippines into one of grief for many.

At least 240 people were killed, with more than a hundred still missing, when Tropical Storm Tembin struck the country's main southern island of Mindanao on Friday, causing floods and landslides throughout the weekend.

On Monday, 20 people were killed in a road accident in the northern Philippines as they headed for a traditional Christmas mass.