Review of Fire Code sought after deadly Valenzuela blaze

MANILA, Philippines – A senator is seeking an inquiry in the Senate to review the implementation of the Fire Code of the Philippines in the aftermath of a deadly factory fire that killed 72 in Valenzuela City last week.

Senator Cynthia Villar has filed Senate Resolution No.1346 which directs a Senate committee to conduct an inquiry on the mechanisms, rules, and guidelines in the implementation of Republic Act 9514 or the Fire Code of the Philippines, and of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) standards.

The proposal comes a week after the  7-hour blaze that gutted Kentex Manufacturing Corporation, which raised questions on occupational and fire safety standards, as well as the enforcement of labor laws in workplaces in the country. (READ: Palace: More inspections after Kentex fire)

In filing the Senate resolution, Villar drew comparisons with the 1996 Ozone Disco fire, which killed 162 people and injured 93 others. Overcrowding and the lack of a fire exit was blamed for the incident, which led to the conviction of 7 former Quezon City officials and two businessmen.

"We thought we learned from the Ozone Disco incident 19 years ago but here comes another deplorable fire incident that killed 72 workers. Something is patently wrong in the mechanisms in place for something this terrible to happen again," Villar said.

She added: "I just hope we don't have to wait for another 20 years. Let the legal process proceed smoothly for the Kentex workers and reforms in the system implemented as soon as possible."

The senator also said the possible violation of the Fire Code, which requires a fire safety inspection before the issuance of a business permit, should be probed.

In its investigation, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) said Kentex was able to operate despite the lack of a fire safety certificate.

Some survivors also claimed that many of the factory's workers failed to escape because the windows were barred with wire and grills, and the fire exits were locked.

The Valenzuela city government said that it issued a provisional business permit to Kentex, but added that it was the BFP's responsibility to inspect the factory within 3 days.

Citing memorandum circular 2011-05 of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian said the BFP was supposed to notify the local government if there were business establishments that did not comply with the Fire Code of the Philippines.

"The [circular] said very clearly that they have to report back to the local government unit whatever negative findings they had. In the case of Kentex, they never came back to us. But in other cases in Valenzuela, they did come back to us," he said.

Gatchalian also defended the city government's right to issue the provisional business permit, citing circulars from the BFP and the DILG recognizing one-stop shops to speed up the processing of business permits in cities and municipalities.

To prevent a repeat of the Kentex fire incident, Gatchalian said officials from the local government, the BFP, and the labor department will be conducting a joint audit of 1,700 industrial establishments in the city.