Quezon City

Fire authorities revoke Gentle Hands’ fire safety certificate

Michelle Abad

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Fire authorities revoke Gentle Hands’ fire safety certificate

FACILITY. A caretaker walks with a child in the Gentle Hands orphanage in Quezon City on May 23, 2023, just before the children are loaded onto Department of Social Welfare and Development buses following the agency's cease and desist order against the orphanage over alleged living standards violations.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

Gentle Hands says the state of its building during the latest inspection was the same as when it was inspected and granted its fire safety certificate in March

MANILA, Philippines – The Quezon City Fire District revoked on Thursday, May 25, the fire safety inspection certificate of orphanage Gentle Hands. This comes two days after the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) pulled the children out of the facility for alleged living standards violations.

On Wednesday, May 24, a day after the children were transferred to DSWD facilities, the Bureau of Fire Protection conducted a thorough and extensive fire safety inspection of Jason’s House, the Gentle Hands facility in Quezon City.

“GHI (Gentle Hands Inc.) was found to have violated pertinent provisions of the revised implementing rules and regulations of… the Fire Code of the Philippines during said inspection resulting to the revocation of its Fire Safety Inspection Certificate,” Senior Superintendent Aristotle Bañaga, acting Quezon City district fire marshal, said in his report to the DSWD.

“Our office is strictly monitoring for compliance and corrections of the defects and deficiencies stipulated in the Notice to Comply, which we have immediately issued after the conduct of the said fire safety inspection,” Bañaga added.

REVOCATION. The Quezon City Fire District revokes Gentle Hands’ fire safety inspection certificate. Letter and photos courtesy of DSWD

The DSWD on Friday, May 26, said in a statement that one of the violations of Gentle Hands was the “lack” of a fire exit. Social Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian earlier noted that during their surprise inspection to the facility on Saturday, May 20, there was a fire exit but it was “sealed.”

The fire exit was obstructed by two high chairs during the Gatchalian’s surprise visit, but these were later removed. That obstruction was one of the reasons that led to the DSWD issuing a cease and desist order to Gentle Hands on Monday, May 22.

The DSWD conducted the surprise visit after receiving complaints about the Gentle Hands facility.

Fire authorities revoke Gentle Hands’ fire safety certificate
Building ‘same’ as before

According to Gentle Hands counsel Tina Balajadia, their group has its fire safety certificate renewed every first quarter of the year. They applied for the latest one in January 11, 2023. Fire authorities came to inspect the building in February, and their certificate was issued on March 28.

Balajadia said that the state of the building on Wednesday was the same state it was in during the inspection on February.

“They would not have issued a fire safety inspection certificate if these violations had existed before,” said Balajadia.

In a spot monitoring report the DSWD gave to Gentle Hands on Tuesday, May 23, just before the children were pulled out, the DSWD also said that the grilles installed on their windows were a fire risk.

“Whatever they inspected in February was the same thing that they inspected now. Even the grilles on the windows, which have already been removed, by the way,” said the lawyer, adding that they had complied with everything the DSWD indicated on its spot monitoring report.

Balajadia said that Gentle Hands will continue to comply with the various authorities’ requirements.

“We are actually now scrambling to try to comply with everything because our primary concern is to make this place safe for the children, to get them back. And get them back to this place that they have called home for many years,” she said.

The over 120 children housed in Gentle Hands were transferred to Elsie Gaches Village in Alabang, Nayon ng Kabataan in Mandaluyong, and the Reception and Study Center for Children in Quezon City.

The DSWD has assured the public that the children were in “safe hands” following concerns about “retraumatizing” the transferred children who had experienced abuse and were being counseled in Gentle Hands. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.