THE Inter-Agency Anti-Arson Task Force of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) investigating the December 23 fire that hit the NCCC Mall Davao at the corner of McArthur Highway and Ma-a Road in Davao City is now determining what criminal, civil and administrative charges will be filed against persons and establishments found responsible for the catastrophe that resulted in death of 38 persons.
This was learned from Jerry D. Candido, head and spokesperson of the BFP task force, in a statement made to Davao reporters after the task force’s final walk-through at the fire scene yesterday.
Candido said the focus of the task force now is to determine who are liable in the recent deadly fire which lasted for 31 hours that ate up property worth P1.6 billion, aside from the fatalities, mostly call center agents, with one body still missing.
Right after the task force has sorted the needed documentary evidence, Candido said, they can already announce the specific charges that may be filed against specific persons and entities.
Earlier, the Davao City fire marshal and four other BFP Davao officers were relieved of their positions pending completion of the investigation conducted by the multi-agency task force. Relieved last December 31, 2017 were Fire Supt. Honey Fritz Alagano, city fire marshal; Fire Inspector Renero Jimenez; Sr. Fire Officer 1 Leo Lauzon; Fire Officer 2 Joel Quizmundo and Sr. Fire Officer 1 Roger Dumag.
Candido said that for the liability of the BFP-Davao, a number of its responsible officials could be charged with three cases which are criminal, civil, and administrative in nature.
He said NCCC management and SSI call center office could face criminal and civil cases as well.
In SSI’s case as a corporation, the ones to be charged are the officers or members of the board of the directors running the corporation, Candido said.
The task force is also trying to know the name of the contractor who conducted repair at the third floor of the mall when the fire erupted, the BFP official said.
The cases will be filed by the Interagency Anti-Arson Task Force, which is composed of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), BFP, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Department of Justice (DOJ), and Criminal Investigation and Detection Group XI (CIDG XI).
It was reported that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) under Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III is conducting its own inquiry. Bello was reported to have approved a budget of P30 million to assist relatives of the workers who are fire victims.
The task force spokesperson said they are targeting to finish collecting documents and finalization of reports within the week.
“However, if we cannot make it, we will try on the second week of January but our target is within the week,” he said.
Candido said the investigation covered so many aspects: cause of fire, reason why people were trapped, firefighting operation conducted, determination of liabilities of different people involved whom maybe the firefighters and the fire inspectors, district fire marshal, fire station commander, NCCC mall owners, SSI owner and the contractor conducting repair in the third floor.
He said they have already received last Wednesday night laboratory test results for the cause of fire from different pieces of evidence brought to the arson laboratory.
He said the result states among others that it is positive for traces of electrical short circuiting in the furniture section of the mall’s third floor.
As part of the procedure, Candido said they brought to the arson laboratory the burnt debris or ashes to determine the presence of flammable liquid that could be used, however, the result yielded negative of any accelerant at the point of origin, leading them to disregard the angle of arson.
He said the “angle of arson is totally disregarded. In fact we can now finally say that the cause of fire is electrical short circuit. We have scientific proof that indeed there was a short circuit that took place in the ceiling portion of the alley in the furniture section on the third floor,” Candido said.
He said the point of origin was the ceiling portion of the third floor.
“We’re almost done and just a matter of writing it since we have already received last night the laboratory test results,” he said.
Candido earlier alleged that there were violations noted in the building of the mall like the delayed warning during fire. He charged the warning came very late because the fire detection and alarm system of the mall is not connected all throughout the building particularly in the SSI portion.
“It means their alarm systems are not interconnected and we can also establish that at the time of fire their automatic alarm system did not function. It was manually operated because the floor control valve was already turned off,” he said.
Candido also said that the exits were not compliant with the fire code, adding there were openings in the vertical exits while the horizontal exits were not fully enclosed and the door and fire doors are swing doors and not heat proof and smoke proof.
“The worst is at the ceiling portion of their exit there was also an opening na parang naging highway ng smoke. Ang kanilang automatic fire suppression system hindi rin all throughout since SSI has no automatic fire suppression system,” he said.
At the time of the fire incident the sprinklers in the third and fourth floors were not functioning because the floor control valve was already closed, Candido bared, saying most of the sprinklers in the third floor have no sprinkler heads. Angie Saveron and Armando B. Fenequito Jr.