It was an accident, say the families of victims as they accept cash aid from J.E. Abraham C. Lee Construction and Development Inc.
It is painful to lose a loved ones. But the families of those who were pinned to death when a bunkhouse in Barangay Lahug, Cebu City, collapsed on Tuesday have decided not to go after the contractor.
“Disgrasya lang gyud (It was but an accident),” said 32-year-old Junryl Caliwa, whose father Carlos was killed after he was hit by metal debris.
Caliwa and the families of the four other fatalities received instead P20,000 each as initial donation from J.E. Abraham C. Lee Construction and Development Inc., the owner of the bunkhouse that went crashing down at 2:57 a.m., while most of the 163 workers housed in the four-storey structure were deep in slumber.
The contractor also vowed to pay the transportation fees, burial costs, and other expenses that will be incurred by the grieving families, and the hospitalization cost for the four others injured in the incident.
Aside from Carlos, also killed were Iveen Villarin, 23, and Jason Bacalso, 22, both residents of the City of Naga, Cebu; Francisco Diapera, 43, of Toledo City, Cebu; and Crisenciano Silomen, 57, of Trinidad, Bohol.
The bodies of the three Cebuano victims were brought to their respective homes last Tuesday, while those of Carlos and Silomen were still at the Mount View Funeral Home in Barangay Calamba, Cebu City. They were set to be transported to their hometowns today.
The Office of the Building Official (OBO) in Cebu City and the Department of Labor and Employment in Central Visayas (DOLE-7) have conducted an investigation on the incident.
The Cebu City government had suspended all the projects undertaken by J.E. Abraham C. Lee Construction and Development Inc. after it found out that the construction firm has no business permit since 2001, and that it also failed to secure another permit to construct a bunkhouse.
Cyril Ticao, officer in charge of DOLE-7, said they also discovered, in its investigation, that the workers of J.E. Abraham C. Lee Construction and Development Inc. were not given the right wages and were not covered with social benefits such as the Social Security System (SSS), PhilHealth and Pag-IBIG.
“The workers are not receiving a minimum wage, overtime pay, and night premium differentials,” he said in an interview after a conference with officials of the construction firm on Wednesday.
Ticao said they also found out that the bunkhouse was “not fit for occupancy.”
He said J.E. Abraham C. Lee Construction and Development Inc. promised to correct all the violations within five days.
In 2016, the DOLE-7 also suspended the operations of the construction firm after its 22-year-old worker was killed when a concrete wall and steel piles fell on him while working at a condominium project in Barangay Labangon, Cebu City.
The labor department, in that case, cited the failure of J.E. Abraham C. Lee Construction and Development Inc. to ensure the safety of its workers as well as the victim’s non-coverage of social benefits. But the company was later allowed to resume its operations.
Ticao said DOLE-7 personnel will visit and inspect the different projects of the construction firm to make sure they will comply with all the requirements this time around.
Ban on bunkhouses
Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña said he wants to impose a ban on the construction of bunkhouses in the city to encourage construction firms to employ workers from the city only.
“Give me a few days to put a policy direction here,” he said in a press conference on Wednesday.
“As if we don’t have people here looking for jobs? You’re giving jobs to others. What about the people of Cebu City? This is Cebu City. So I need suggestions from the public on how to do this, but this is what I see,” he said.
Osmeña said the city will also look into the operations of other construction firms to find out if they have permits for their bunkhouses.
Cebu City Attorney Joseph Bernaldez said it is necessary for firms to secure a building permit for all their structures, including the bunkhouses.
Cebu City’s OBO chief Josefa Ylanan said they have directed the management of J.E. Abraham C. Lee Construction and Development Inc. to explain what happened.
Based on their investigation, Ylanan said the bunkhouse that collapsed was not habitable since it did not have a proper sleeping area, water, electrical facilities, comfort rooms and washing areas.
Senior Insp. Jonathan Taneo, chief of the Homicide Section of the Cebu City Police Office, said they are also conducting an investigation to determine whether or not the construction firm could be held liable for reckless imprudence resulting to multiple homicide.
“We will find out if we can file criminal charges against the firm,” he said.
Assistance from Capitol
Meanwhile, the Cebu provincial government will give P10,000 as financial aid to the families of each of the three fatalities from Cebu.
“They are entitled to it,” said Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, as she appealed to owners of construction firms in Cebu to ensure the safety of their workers and to treat them as human beings.
But Marivic Garces, chief of the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office, said they will only release the financial assistance if there will be a written letter from the families of the three construction workers.
“We coordinated with the firm and they told us that they will shoulder everything from burial to financial. But if the family members wanted more, they can write a letter to the Capitol so that we can supplement (sic) their requests,” Garces said.
Aside from cash grant, the Capitol may also extend assistance such as one sack of rice, a box of canned goods, coffee, noodles, and milk to the families of the victims.
Caliwa, a carpenter of J.E. Abraham C. Lee Construction and Development Inc. for a year, said his heart broke when he could not do anything when his father, who was pinned down by metal poles, asked for his help.
“Nagpatabang siya nako apan dili gyud nako madaog ang tubo bisan unsaon nako og alsa. Niabot ang mga rescuers unya ila na ko gipapahawa (He asked me to help him, but I could not lift the metal poles by myself. The rescuers arrived and they asked me to step away),” he told Cebu Daily News.
“Sakit kaayo para nako nga gibiyaan ang akong papa. Unsaon ta man, nahitabo man gyud (It was so painful for me to leave my father. But these things just happened),” he added.
Caliwa slept just a meter apart from his father after a hard day’s work on Monday night.
He said he was jolted by a crackling sound from the roof of the bunkhouse, prompting him to move to his side. He was not hit by the metal poles although his finger was almost cut by a sharp object.
Nine-month pregnant Virgie Bacalso also grieved over the death of her live-in partner Iveen Villarin, who had worked for the construction firm for a year.
“Excited pa kaayo to siya kay manganak na ko karong semanaha (He was very excited because I was expected to give birth this week),” she told CDN.
While it is hard to accept the death of Villarin, Bacalso said she has to move on.
“Maningkamot ko nga matagaan og maayong kaugmaon ang among anak (I will work hard to give our child a bright future),” she said as she wiped away tears.
Alma Ludovice was also in grief over the death of her live-in partner Jason.
“Wala ko nag-expect nga mahitabo ni. Bata pa kaayo siya (I did not expect this to happen. He was too young to die),” she said.
But like Bacalso, Ludovice said they also have no plan to press charges against the contractor.
The bodies of Villarin and Jason, who were cousins, lie in state in their family’s residence in Barangay Langtad, City of Naga, south Cebu.
They will be buried on Sunday. /WITH REPORTS FROM MOREXETTE MARIE B. ERRAM AND BENJIE B. TALISIC