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Philippine President Vows to Uncover Truth Behind Mall Fire

Philippine President Vows to Uncover Truth Behind Mall Fire

Tuesday, 26 December, 2017 - 10:00
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (Reuters)

The president of Philippines vowed on Tuesday that the truth behind the mall fire that killed 37 call center workers over the weekend will be uncovered.

Rodrigo Duterte said he made the promise during a meeting on Monday night with the families of those killed in a shopping mall fire in his hometown Davao in the south.

"I assured them... that the truth will -- let the truth come out," Duterte said. "That is what they are asking for. Just the truth of what happened."

The justice and labor 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 warranted by the results of the investigation.

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 center for US-based market research firm SSI on the top floor.

SSI chief executive officer, Gary Laben, said the company would help with funeral arrangements and create a fund for contributions for the victims' families.

"This terrible tragedy has left us with heavy hearts," Laben said.

Except for a grocery store on the ground floor and the call center on the top floor, the shopping areas were still closed to the public when the fire started mid-morning, preventing a bigger tragedy amid the peak Christmas shopping season.

At a Davao hospital 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 Saturday.

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

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said Tuesday 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 AFP.

The Associated Labor 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 over 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.

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