MANILA, Philippines – After the bodies were recovered from the mall fire scene on Christmas evening, President Rodrigo Duterte advised families to cremate the bodies of victims.
The President, who is in his home city of Davao for the holidays, met with the kin of victims a second time on Monday night, December 25, two days since the deadly incident.
“I told them: ‘They’re already burnt. And even if you bring the cadaver back home, you won’t be able to open up the coffin for people to see the the dead,'” he told reporters.
He added: “I suggested cremation. It’s the cleanest, most expedient way of doing things.”
Duterte also said he offered what he called, “words of consolation, words of reality, religious words,” although he acknowledged even these were not enough.
“I told them, at this time, death to me is a spiritual journey. So nobody can deal with it except… No amount of kind words, consoling words,” he said. “It is always a spiritual journey between the mother, father, brother, sister.”
He said he told them to pray and asked the priest for a short prayer “just to prepare them because there’s really no sense in overdoing things. You saw it yourselves.”
The blaze started at the 4-story NCCC Mall on Saturday morning, December 23, trapping people inside. A call center, which operates 24 hours a day, was at the mall’s top floor. Research Now SSI, the company with local call center operations, claimed it lost 37 employees.
The fire is said to have started on the 3rd floor, which houses products like fabrics, wooden furniture, and plastic ware, causing the fire to spread widely and quickly.
Early on, families looking for their loved ones were told by Duterte that those trapped had zero chances of survival.
Duterte, who served as mayor of Davao for about two decades and continues to live in the city, first visited the mall on Saturday night to comfort relatives of the victims. (IN PHOTOS: Duterte cries with kin of Davao mall fire victims)
Search for truth
The President also gave the families assurances that “the truth will come out.”
“That’s what they want. The truth. What happened. And for as long as the compensation and the expenses are answered,” he said.
“For me, I committed that the government is willing to chip in.”
The President also said he felt “lucky because I was around to commiserate with the people there. And I was the one who broke the news to them.”
He said his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte had begged off saying it was too difficult a task.