BUTUAN CITY, Philippines – The Butuan City government declared yesterday a day of mourning for the 17 female workers who were killed in the fire that gutted a commercial building here last Wednesday.
Butuan City Vice Mayor Lawrence Fortun said all Philippine flags in government offices, schools, and public places were unfurled at half-mast.
“This is to show and share our sympathy to the close relatives of the fire victims in this time of grief and sorrow for their untimely and tragic demise,” Fortun said.
Fortun said criminal charges would be filed against the owners of Novo Jeans and Shirts Enterprises, for whom the victims worked for, for violating city ordinances prohibiting workers from staying in any business establishment at night.
Citing records, the city engineering office said Novo was issued permits only for warehousing and storage and not for living quarters or a dormitory.
Relatives said the victims were apparently trapped inside the building when the fire struck.
They criticized the authorities for failing to keep buildings safe, prompting Bureau of Fire Protection’s Caraga regional director Mario Socorro Timonera to vow to regularly inspect business establishments to promote fire safety rules.
Agusan del Norte provincial fire marshal Mario Palarca and Butuan City fire marshal Aldrick Gomez said they will soon inspect all business establishments, dormitories, and private and public schools and verify if they comply with fire safety regulations.
Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, the country’s largest labor group, yesterday condemned what it described as the “senseless death” of the 17 female workers in the Butuan City fire. Three other workers survived the blaze.
The TUCP said the death of the female workers could have been prevented if only proper precautionary measures were undertaken.
“It is senseless. Accidents such as this could easily be mitigated if proper safety precautions and practices are mindfully put in place,” TUCP general secretary Jun Umali said.
Based on data gathered by TUCP, nine workers were killed and 11 others were injured in six work-related incidents in the first quarter this year.
Umali said safety and health improvements at the workplace are urgent, adding that lack of budget and personnel are unacceptable reasons for workers to get injured or die.
TUCP has suggested deputizing trained union leaders and workers to conduct joint workplace inspections and assist the government in ensuring safer, healthier and sustainable working conditions.
“We have trained leaders and members. We are more than happy to extend help and work with the Department of Labor and Employment to achieve better results on workplace safety and health. This could be one lasting and realistic solution to the lingering problem of lack of personnel in DOLE,” he said. – With Mayen Jaymalin, Cecille Suerte Felipe - By Ben Serrano