T-shirt factory fire kills 15 in QC
An early-morning fire gutted a T-shirt factory in Quezon City, on Thursday, killing 15 people, including a 3-year-old child, in one of the deadliest blazes in Metro Manila in recent years.
On top of the fire code violations that were cited in the initial investigation, the high death toll was blamed on the structure’s “sweatshop” conditions and the delayed arrival of firefighters due to flooding, heavy traffic and a wrongly reported address.
Most of the victims were stay-in workers, but also included one of the owners of the family business whose problematic records and permits surfaced from the tragedy.
Fire bureau officials gathered that the two-story worksite of MGC Wearhouse Inc. inside Pleasant View at Barangay Tandang Sora was originally a house that had been illegally converted into a factory.
Mayor Joy Belmonte, who described the factory as a place “resembling a sweatshop,” said criminal charges would be filed against the factory owners for violations of the fire and labor codes, among other laws.
Among the victims was one of the reported owners, Michael John Cavilte, 44, as well as his 3-year-old grandniece, Erica Scarlet Cavilte and her mother Maria Michaela Isabel Barbin, 23.
The other fatalities were identified as Wilmer Ritual, 25; Raffy Barrientos, 25; Julius Abarca, 20; Alfredo Manuel, 23; Jayson Dominguez, 45; Carmina Abalos, 22; Theresa Cruz, 25; Clarisse Mercado, 25; and Diane Lupinal, 25.
Three of the dead were identified as of press time only by their first names: Mia, 20; Aireen, 20; and Daisy, 30.
Michael John’s nephew, Eric John, 25, Barbin’s partner and father of Erica Scarlet, survived by jumping from the second floor.
Most of the fatalities were stay-in workers and carpenters who were sleeping inside the factory when the fire broke out around 5:30 a.m., according to Chief Supt. Nahum Tarozza, regional director of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).
They apparently died of suffocation as smoke filled the interior of what Tarozza bluntly described as a “fire trap.”
For a place that keeps highly flammable materials, such as fabrics, paints, chemicals and plastic items, there was only one entrance and exit point, he noted.
“When the first responders arrived, the house was totally engulfed in flames. It was already gone; the chemicals, the paint were a factor. The fabrics stoked the fire,” Tarroza said.
The exact cause of the fire remained unknown, but it apparently started from the office located at the front of the factory, which was attached to a three-story concrete building still under construction.
When the fire broke out, the victims were then staying at the rear portion of the factory, which may have been a reason why they couldn’t immediately escape, the BFP official noted.
“Their bodies were already charred when found later just outside their rooms,” he said
The first floor had two rooms, where six men stayed in one room and six women occupied the other. “On the upper floor, there were four rooms where the owner, his live-in partner, and the child lived,” Tarozza said.
Besides Eric John, two other occupants—Maria Fe Parel, 29, and one man identified only as Francisco, 20—managed to get out but sustained injuries.
According to Tarroza, “Our fire department came in late because they were given a different address and there were flooding and heavy rains earlier which caused heavy traffic in the Tandang Sora area even at 5 a.m.”
Taking 14 minutes to reach the factory from the time they were alerted, firefighters arrived around 5:44 a.m. and took about an hour before declaring the fire under control. They declared the fire out around 8 a.m.
The damage to the property was estimated at P3 million.
Based on its initial findings, the Quezon City government said the management of MGC Wearhouse provided wrong information about its business activities.
For one, Belmonte said, there was no building permit application on record for the 200-square-meter house.
According to a 2020 permit that cropped up in the records concerning MGC Wearhouse Inc., it was supposed to be into retail—not manufacturing—and employing only three people on a 15-square-meter site.
However, the company was manufacturing T-shirts, with at least 15 workers.
Belmonte said the city’s Business Permit and Licensing Department (BPLD) had actually ordered the company to relocate, giving it an April 2024 deadline, since its business activity was not allowed in a high-density area like Pleasant View.
The BFP issued a fire safety inspection certificate to the company in 2021 but it expired last year and had not been renewed.
When the clearance was given, Belmonte said, “the fire department personnel did not see any manufacturing activity and there was only a small office.”
She said cases would be filed against the four remaining officials of the family corporation who survived the fire.
Among them would be complaints for reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, violation of the Fire Code and labor laws, and misdeclaration of taxes, Belmonte said.
Tarroza said the factory only had a “barangay permit” that was secured only in August.