Press Release
May 15, 2015


Amid public outrage over the fire that killed dozens in Valenzuela City Wednesday, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago pushed for the approval of a bill that would make building owners criminally liable for failure to comply with fire safety laws.

Santiago, a multi-awarded trial court judge, filed Senate Bill No. 2530 in December 2014. The bill seeks to hold owners or lessors of residential or commercial building responsible for death, injury, and/or loss of property resulting from fire.

"Disasters such as the one in Valenzuela are unacceptable when we have laws that are supposed to minimize fire hazards and rule out fire traps. The only explanation is that these laws are not feared. We should give them more teeth," the senator said.

As of press time, 72 have been confirmed dead from the seven-hour fire that gutted Kentex Manufacturing Corp., a slipper factory in Valenzuela. Police said some 26 people remain missing and 30 more have been injured.

Initial investigation suggested that the victims, mostly factory workers, ran up the second floor, only to be trapped due to locked windows. The victims likely died of suffocation from thick black smoke distinctly produced from burning rubber.

Under Santiago's proposed bill, owners or lessors may face life imprisonment if fire incidents in their residential or commercial buildings result in death. They will also be required to indemnify victims' families P1 million each.

Building owners or lessors will also be required to pay victims who suffer injuries or losses from fire following this scheme:

(1) P500,000 plus the equivalent of one year's expected salary each if the victims suffer serious physical injuries;

(2) P200,000 to P300,000 plus the equivalent of six months of expected salary each if the victims suffer less than serious or slight physical injuries; or

(3) the sum of the value of property lost, burned, or damaged.

At present, penalties for failure to comply with R.A. No. 9514, also known as the Fire Code, and R.A. No. 6541, also known as the Building Code, are limited to fines, the closure of buildings, or the revocation of permits.

"Stringent punishment will command wider adherence to existing laws, and hopefully mitigate damage, injury, and death due to fire," the senator said.

She is also set to file a resolution on Monday calling for a Senate inquiry on alleged labor rights violations related to the fire. Groups charged that the workers of the Valenzuela factory are underpaid, without hazard pay, and deprived of social security.

Santiago remains on medical leave due to her lung cancer, stage four, but continues to be top-performing senator. She filed a total of 1,007 bills and resolutions from the start of the 16th Congress in June 2013 until the last session day of 2014.

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