Valenzuela fire victims buried, DNA tests continue

MANILA, Philippines – The remains of the workers killed in the blaze that hit a footwear factory in Valenzuela City were temporarily buried Thursday night, May 14, as investigators worked to identify the bodies retrieved from the site.

Most of the 72 victims killed in the fire that engulfed Kentex Manufacturing Corporation on Wednesday were burnt beyond recognition, forcing officials to resort to DNA testing to identify the bodies.

Twenty-one bodies were temporarily buried at the Arkong Bato cemetery Thursday night, while 48 bodies were buried Friday afternoon.

Late Thursday, grieving relatives trooped to Maysan Barangay Hall to view the remains of their loved ones, while forensics experts from the Philippine National Police (PNP) took DNA samples for the matching process.

Of the 72 bodies pulled out from the site, 36 were female, while 28 were male. Five remain unidentified.

Police investigators earlier said the DNA testing and matching would take several months. Another problem that could delay the results would be victims whose relatives would be coming from the provinces, according to PNP crime laboratory deputy director for operations Emmanuel Arañas.

The city government of Valenzuela said it would notify the families of the victims as soon as the bodies have been identified for the final burial services.

Ongoing investigations

Meanwhile, the PNP and the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) are starting their own investigations to determine who should be held accountable for the tragedy.

Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who visited the factory site on Thursday, said there were several questions that investigators will have to answer:

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has tasked personnel from the national headquarters of the BFP to handle the probe.

This came after the Valenzuela city fire marshall Supt. Mel Jose Lagan and Senior Inspector Ed-groover Oculam, chief of the city's fire safety enforcement section, were relieved from their posts to allow an impartial investigation of the incident.

Just hours before he was removed from his post, Lagan said his office had not been deficient in conducting its fire safety assessment of the damaged building.

Kentex Manufacturing Corporation had passed the latest safety assessment and the building had enough exit points, he said.

But the problem is that the establishments may have committed fire safety violations, such as adding more people inside the factory than what was allowed, after passing the annual inspection.

Lagan also admitted that the owners could be held liable for the lack of a welding permit and overcrowding.

Reports indicated that the fire was caused by a welding activity, which in turn sparked nearby flammable chemicals also stored within the compound.

Roxas also said that the factory has over 200 employees, but it remains unclear how many employees were present when the fire hit the factory.

While records from the labor department showed that the company complied with general labor standards as of September 2014, Roxas said they will also probe the owners for the factory's “pakyawan” system, or its hiring workers with no records in the company. – with reports from Bea Cupin/Rappler.com