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Identification of Valenzuela fire victims to take a month, says PNP Crime Lab

(Updated 4:09 p.m.) It may take a month before most of the victims of the Valenzuela warehouse fire are identified through DNA testing, an official from the PNP Criminal Laboratory said Monday.

Of the 72 people who died from last week's deadly fire in Barangay Ugong, 69 were burned beyond recognition.

PNP Crime Laboratory deputy director Senior Superintendent Emmanuel Aranas said specimen collection from blood relatives is still ongoing. The specimens would be compared to the cadavers recovered from the burned factory, he added.

"'Yung tao po namin nag-start ng magtrabaho. 'Yung initial proceedings ng extraction pero hindi pwedeng madaliin 'yung machine eh. Kailangan po step by step 'yung pag[gamit] sa machine," he said.

The PNP Crime Lab will shoulder the cost of DNA testing, Aranas said.

Earlier, relatives of those killed in the warehouse fire met with representatives from the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and Gabriela and expressed hope that the remains of the fire victims would 
be identified as soon as possible.

"Ang gusto na lang namin, mapaaga 'yung pagkakakilanlan ng mga katawan," said Lizel Halasan, who lost her younger sister Alfreda in the fire, GMA News' 24 Oras Weekend on Sunday reported.
"Napakasakit tanggapin, pero pinipilit namin tanggapin,” said another relative, Jesse Falalimpa. “Pinipilit namin magpakatatag para (sa) kanila (ni) nanay at saka ni tatay."
The deputy director said that they understand the agitation of the relatives to get hold of the body of their loved ones.

"Kinausap na po namin sila last week at in-explain na po namin pero nauunawaan po namin 'yung agitation ng family. So ngayon, on Wednesday, we will talk with them again to explain the progress kung sakasakaling ma-identify, pwedeng kunin ng pamilya para sila maglibing finally," Aranas explained.

Nonetheless, he assured that DNA test results are "as accurate as fingerprint."
Kentex Manufacturing Corporation, the owner of the factory, gave each family P13,000 while promising even more financial aid. It will also provide burial and medical expenses and shoulder forensic tests.
For its part, the Valenzuela City government had promised to help with burial expenses, and would even help send the remains of those killed back to their home provinces, if necessary.

Case conference, alleged labor rights violations

The Bureau of Fire Protection had been tasked to look into the cause of the fire and see whether fire safety laws had been violated.

On Monday, various departments of the Northern Police District, the Valenzuela police as well as the BFP-Valenzuela held a case conference to discuss the progress into the investigation of the incident.

The NPD-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group still has in its protective custody the welder identified Oscar Romero, who is being asked on the circumstances surrounding the fire.

A total of 19 witnesses, including survivors of the fire, had been interviewed by authorities.   

Meanwhile, possible labor rights violations by the warehouse owners are also being looked into.   
Last week, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said she will file a resolution calling for an investigation on the alleged labor rights violations committed by the warehouse firm on its workers.

Also last week, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said Kentex Manufacturing Corp., which owns the factory, violated the Labor Code by getting the services of a subcontractor that was not registered with the Labor Department.

"I need to say this in the wake of this deadly fire accident. The company has engaged, and is engaging, the services of an illegal subcontractor, a violation of the Labor Code, and therefore, it is responsible for the subcontractor’s workers," Baldoz said.

On Monday, however, lawyer Renato Paraiso, who represents Kentex, said the owners of the warehouse won't be attending a meeting called by the Labor Department since they did not receive any invitation from DOLE. — with Athena Imperial/RSJ/KG, GMA News