1,800 employees worry about jobs
Around 1,800 workers face a bleak Christmas as the shopping mall where they worked in downtown Cebu City was gutted by fire past midnight.
A four-hour delay frustrated firemen who were stopped from entering the Gaisano Capital South.
The origin of the fire remains unclear.
It broke out at 12:42 a.m. when the building was empty. Past 7 p.m., it was still emitting heavy smoke and breaking out in flames more than 18 hours later.
Firemen struggled with limited breathing gear and ladders too short for the seven-story building in the corner of Colon and Leon Kilat Streets.
The Dec. 23 blaze destroyed large stocks of merchandise during peak sale season for Christmas shoppers in the store, which caters to mass market customers in south Cebu.
Firemen were prevented by the mall’s security forces from breaking the large display windows to enter the building until Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama arrived at 5 a.m. and gave the order to proceed. The rolled-up metal doors were then opened.
Supt. Anderson Comar, fire chief, said fire fighters were denied entry during the first crucial hours.
Mayor Rama said he he wanted to know why access was denied.
“They didn’t see the danger that the building would explode and the fire would spread to nearby buildings,” Rama told reporters.
“We can even destroy a neighbor’s house just to save other buildings from catching fire,” he said, explaining actions justified during an emergency.
The mayor said he was able to speak with the mall owner Henry Gaisano, who wanted to make sure no one would be injured in the fire.
Past 3 p.m. an explosion was heard from inside the building, sending up more flames, the result of intense heat building up inside.
Until the early evening, firemen who battled heavy smoke, could not pinpoint the source of the fire. They emerged from the building after 30-minute intervals, the limit of their breathing apparatus, exhausted after hours of work.
Eddie Gaisano, one of the owners of the Gaisano Capital Group, was “devastated,” said Eric Labrada, the firm’s liaison officer.
The store in Colon was also used as the corporate office of Gaisano Capital, which has 17 branches nationwide.
Store employees, especially corporate office staff, will continue working but those assigned in the selling area will be on “work suspension”, said Eric Labrada, human resource manager.
They follow a “no-work-no-pay” policy because they are daily wage earners,” he told Cebu Daily News.
He said the mall has 1,000 direct hired personnel and 800 employees of tenants.
These include sales and office personnel, security guards and utility workers, both direct hire and agency-based.
Some employees already received their 13th month pay and Christmas bonus. Those who haven’t yet, worry whether they will be paid.
Labrada assured this will be released but gave no time frame.
“We will give it to them. If one store was burned, we will have 16 stores operating,” he assured, adding that decisions have to be made by the top management.
He said the top management will meet to decide whether to release the monetary equivalent of leave credits to employees, which was scheduled on Dec. 29.
Almost all fire trucks in Metro Cebu were at the scene, including a helicopter from the the Philippine Air Force.
Comar said initial evaluation showed the fire started in the receiving area of the stock room. From Gaisano management, however, Labrada, said the source was traced to a spark in the engine room on the second floor where the generator is located.
Six security guards were on duty at the time./Correspondents Chito Aragon, Rhea Ruth Rosell, Jhunnex Napallacan and Gabriel Bonjoc