Duterte: 'Let truth come out' in deadly Davao mall fire probe

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 26) — President Rodrigo Duterte promised relatives of the dozens killed in the Davao City mall fire that the government will find out exactly what happened.

"What I assured them is that, 'Let the truth come out,'" Duterte told reporters in Davao City early Tuesday morning. "'Yan lang naman ang ano rin nila eh. And maybe the compensation and the expenses are answered. Pero ako, nag-commit na ako that government is willing to chip in."

[Translation: That's what they're after, too. And maybe the compensation and the expenses are answered. But I committed that government is willing to chip in.]

Duterte's statement came after Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre on Monday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate the deadly blaze that left 37 dead.

"The loss of lives and the resulting damage caused underscore the need to determine if someone is at fault and should be held criminally liable," Aguirre said in a statement.

"By punishing those responsible, we can set an example to others so that, hopefully, there will be no repetition of these tragedies," he added.

Meanwhile, the BPO Industry Employees Network, an independent group of business process outsourcing (BPO) workers in the Philippines, called on the government to conduct a thorough probe of the blaze.

"The mere fact that scores of employees were trapped in a building during already raises much suspicion to the BPO company's compliance with occupational safety standards — such as early warning system and prompt evacuation as well as adequate and accessible emergency exits," the group said, referring to the Survey Sampling International (SSI), a BPO company on the 4th floor of the mall.

"What happened in SSI in Davao only shows that even workers in the so-called 'sunshine industry' are not free from fatal work hazards," it added.

37 bodies recovered

Authorities said the fire at the New City Commercial Center started at around 9:40 a.m. of December 23 at the furniture area on the third floor.

Read: Mayor Sara Duterte: 1 dead, 38 missing from Davao City mall fire

"'Yung ating mall, wala siyang ventilation and enclosed space siya, so 'di nakalabas yung usok at apoy. Lahat ng responder na pumapasok sa building, 'yun nakakasalubong nila, usok at apoy," Davao City Fire Marshall Honeyfritz Alagano told CNN Philippines on Sunday.

[Translation: The mall had insufficient ventilation and it's an enclosed space, so the fire and smoke could not get out. This is what responders saw when they went in, smoke and fire.]

She added the fire exits could be opened and used by employees, except for the one near SSI on the fourth floor.

Smoke was coming through, Alagano said, so instead of leaving the premises via the fire exit, the employees chose to go back to their office.

That same day, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said one body had been recovered.

On Christmas Day, authorities recovered the bodies of 36 call center agents, who were burned beyond recognition.

Read: 36 more bodies recovered from Davao City mall fire

Bureau of Fire Protection Southern Mindanao Director Senior Supt. Wilberto Rico Neil Kwan Tiu said on Monday the bodies were found in the lobby, just a few meters from the stairwell and the elevator.

Bringing them home

For Judielyn Sison, who flew to Davao City from Quezon province, all she wants is to bring her sister Jessica home.

"Hanggang hindi po nakikita, mahirap pa rin paniwalaan na wala na," Sison told CNN Philippines. "Bahala na kung sino man or 'yung in charge doon sa case na 'yun. Andito kami para kunin siya."

[Translation: Until we see the body, it's hard to believe that she is dead. Let the one who's in charge of the case handle the investigation. We're here to bring her home.]

The victim Jessica had been a call center employee for four years.  Sison said the Davao City government offered to pay for the funeral and burial services.

"Kami po ay humihingi na rin ng tulong sa Office of the President para maibalik namin (si Jessica) sa Quezon," she added.

[Translation: We're asking the Office of the President to help us bring my sister home.]

The Davao City government has set up a help desk for the families of fire victims.

They may contact Malyn Agonia of the City Social Services and Development Office at 0928-5009201.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Makoi Popioco contributed to this report.