After HTI fire, labor dep't wants safety inspection task back
MANILA, Philippines – Labor and local officials on Monday, February 13, raised the need to review Republic Act 7916, the Special Economic Zone Act, following the fire that broke in the House Technology Industries (HTI) compound inside the Cavite export processing zone early this month.
In a press conference, where a preliminary report on the incident was presented, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III said a review is particularly necessary in the area of inspecting occupational health and safety.
The fire broke early evening of February 1 and was only put out afternoon of February 3 – almost two full days later. Initial findings attributed the fire to a mechanical accident. The damage was estimated to be between P12 billion and P15 billion.
According to Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) officials, it took longer for firefighters to put out the fire at HTI because they did not have prior knowledge of what materials the facility housed, since it was the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) which handles fire safety inspections.
Cavite Governor Jesus Crispin Remulla also believes the law should be reviewed. "This is a matter of congressional oversight. Everybody, let's look at this as a matter of policy," he said.
Under RA 7916, PEZA has the sole authority to administer inspections and issue permits to companies within the economic zones. This is meant to speed up processing time and to reduce red-tape. (READ: The pitfalls of Special Economic Zones)
That means companies within export zones are under the authority of PEZA, which in turn coordinates with the local governments only on certain services to be provided to locators.
In addition, Bello said that, before he assumed his post, a memorandum of agreement was signed, delegating technical safety inspections from the labor department to PEZA.
"I do not want to ascribe bad faith on those who transferred the responsibility to PEZA," he said, adding that he is considering revoking the agreement. "It is the duty of the department to implement occupational safety. Pag-uusapan namin 'yan ng PEZA (I'll take this up with PEZA)."
According to the preliminary report, DOLE Region IV-A Office, after conducting joint assessment with PEZA in February 2016, issued HTI with certificates of compliance with general labor standards and with occupational safety and health standards.
HTI was also issued 7 permits to operate its caldera, 3 horizontal fire tubes, and 3 water tubes.
PEZA Deputy Director Justo Yusingco gave assurances that their inspectors are competent to conduct the assessment: "Our inspectors are trained to follow the Fire Code."
According to Yusingco, the agency will wait for the final report on the HTI fire before administering sanctions to inspectors, if they are liable. "We're waiting for the BFP report. We don't want to pre-empt," he said.
In an earlier statement, fire chief Bobby Baruelo said that "it is better" if the BFP conducts fire safety inspections.
"It's best when we know what's inside the structure and what kind of fire fighting mechanisms we will employ since we already know the type of building. If we already have a record of that, then we know what we're facing. We're ready," he explained in a mix of English and Filipino.
The HTI facility, where housing materials for export to Japan are manufactured, occupies 80 hectares at the Cavite Export Processing Zone – only 6 hectares of which caught fire. It is the biggest employer in the processing zone, with about 15,000 employees. – Rappler.com