Demolition of charred Davao mall begins but questions remain

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The demolition of the Davao City mall razed by a deadly blaze in December 2017 began Saturday, May 19, but vital questions surrounding the incident still remained unanswered.

Five months after the NCCC mall fire that killed more than 30 people, there have yet to be any official findings on the incident, and no charges have been filed.

The interagency anti-arson task force (IATF) led by Fire Superintendent Jerry Candido of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) was the first to conduct on investigation into the blaze.

Candido's team members include officials from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group XI.

The results of the IATF investigation were submitted to the NBI  for “evaluation and action” in April

Asked whether the NBI has acted on the report, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told Rappler on Saturday that "there seems to be no findings about the fire" to date.

Guevarra said the report forwarded to the office of NBI Director Dante Gierran was  with the NBI deputy director for regional operations for further investigation.

Another probe was commissioned by NCCC itself. The company flew in American fire and forensics experts James M. Lord, Stephen M. Hill in the first week of January 2018.

The NCCC, however, would also not make public the findings of the investigation. Rappler also sought for Candido's approval whether it could be given access to the government-led probe but the request was denied.

“We have yet to receive the official report and we do not want to preempt the findings of IATF,” said Thea Septann Padua, NCCC public relations manager.

NCCC was given permit to knock down its mall in Maa on February 20, but only began doing so 3 months later as it needed to cut off utility lines and move out contents inside, according to Thea Septann Padua, the company's public relations manager.

“We will rebuild the mall so we can continue serving the community as well as provide employment to our associates,” said Padua in an e-mailed response to Rappler.

Short for New City Commercial Corporation, NCCC operated the NCCC Mall Davao, which was the company's biggest store established in December 2003. The mall was the company's second outlet here, after the one in the city's Chinatown.

At least 38 people died in the December fire last year. All, except a mall employee  who was trying to save trapped employees, were call center agents working for Survey Sampling International (SSI) which leased the mall's topmost floor.

Less than a week after the fire, then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II had announced that people will be charged over the incident. In March, the DILG through its spokesperson, Assistant Secretary Jonathan Malaya, confirmed that "BFP officials will be charged for the NCCC mall fire" and that DILG lawyers were readying the complaints. –