4 workers drown in mall septic tankBy Jeannette I. Andrade
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Lack of safety nets and a rescue attempt that went awry led Thursday to one of the most harrowing workplace tragedies in the metropolis in recent memory.
A 50-year-old plumber, his two sons, and a coworker drowned in a 10-foot-deep septic tank at a major shopping mall in Cubao, Quezon City, before dawn Thursday.
The victims were identified as Romy Suarez; his sons Rommel, 23, and Rodel, 20; and their coworker Marvin Aleman, 24; all residents of Barangay Santolan in Pasig City and employees of RCBC Plumbing Services owned by Helen Caragan.
An investigation showed that Rodel Suarez was the first to get trapped in the tank and the three others were also killed when they tried to rescue him.
Hours before the incident, an Ali Mall tenant reported a problem in the drainage system, prompting the management to call for RCBC’s services.
At around 3 a.m., an engineer employed by the mall assisted the workers in siphoning the water off the tank, after which Rodel Suarez was lowered into the tank for him to manually unclog a pipe. Suarez was only in his underwear, with a rope tied around his body.
“He apparently was able to unclog the system, causing the trapped water to rush into the tank,” according to Police Officer 2 Alvin Quisumbing of the Quezon City Police District’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit.
As the wastewater rose quickly, “his companions tried to pull him out but his body had become so slippery that even the rope slipped off his body,” the investigator said.
Suarez’s father Romy, brother Rommel, and Aleman then tried to lower a ladder—but it also proved useless since it was only seven feet long.
In panic, the three men jumped into the tank—which had an opening measuring only about three feet by three feet— but they also ended up trapped underneath. They drowned within minutes, Quisumbing said.
“The water was so thick with gunk and filth that the four victims could hardly move,” the investigator added.
Their bodies were recovered at around 6 a.m. in a joint effort by the Bureau of Fire Protection, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the Quezon City Red Cross, and barangay officials.
The retrieval took that long also because of the stench and thickness of the wastewater, the officer noted.
“I saw a member of the BFP wearing a gas mask who went into the tank and come out gasping for air in 5 minutes because the methane gas down there was just too much,” he said.
The victims didn’t have any protective gear on and were actually half-naked when they went to work.
Noting this, the QCPD-CIDU requested the city engineer’s office to conduct further investigation into the incident, the results of which could be used to press charges against liable parties.
Reached for comment by the Inquirer, city engineer Joselito Cabungcal said the workers should have at least been given full-body suits, gas masks and harnesses.
“It was expected that the tank would have high levels of methane and the water itself would be toxic. They should have been fully equipped,” he said, adding that his office would conduct its own probe.