Baldoz says construction firm could be liable for collapsed Bulacan warehouse

By , on January 20, 2015

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The DOLE investigation of the accident involving the collapse of a wall of a warehouse being constructed in Brgy. Ilang-Ilang, Guiguinto, Bulacan has yielded a finding that the construction firm involved, Hoclim Co Construction Corporation, with its main address in Quezon City, and its principal, Number One Golden Dragon Realty Corporation, could be liable for various offenses, including operating without permit and employing child labor.

The accident claimed the lives of 12 persons, including a seven-year old boy and a pregnant woman.

“The DOLE Regional Office No. 3 has completed its accident investigation at the construction site and it has issued a cease-and-desist order (CD) against the construction company. The findings include the company’s lack of an approved Construction Safety and Health Program (CSHP). It also found out that one of the workers who died in the accident, Edmond Bernabe, a construction hand, was only 14 years old,” said Baldoz.

She said the DOLE investigating team, composed of Labor Laws Compliance Officers (LLCOs) Engr. Angelito Longos Jr. and Engr. Ritche Templanza, and Labor and Employment Officers Restituto Espino, Jomel Yabut, and Eloiza Muli, further found out that the construction company and its principal have no response team, no supervising personnel, such as engineers, safety officers, and the like, who were in charge of construction work.

Regional Office Director Ana C. Dione said both Hoclim Co Construction Corporation and Number One Golden Dragon Realty Corporation—which have not appeared to face up to their obligation—shall be held jointly and solidarily for all the violations related to the health and safety and the welfare of the victims.

In the case of employing a child laborer in hazardous work—which includes construction work , and which is against the provisions of R.A. 9231, An Act Providing for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor and Affording Stronger Protection for the Working Child, Amending for this Purpose R.A. 7610, As Amended, Otherwise Known as the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act—the company, if found liable, could be fined not less than P100,000 but not more than P1 million, or imprisonment of not less than 12 years and one day to 20 years, or both such fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court.

Under the law, the Secretary of Labor can also order the immediate closure of a company if the violation resulted in the death, insanity, or serious physical injury of a child employed in the establishment. In this case, the proceedings arising from the violation shall be summary in nature and the DOLE moto proprio or upon complaint by any interested party, may initiate the filing of a case.

Director Dione said Guiguinto municipal officials, led by municipal engineer Arcadio Leover Sulit, have assured that the company will shoulder all the expenses of the families of the dead and the injured workers involved in the accident.

However, Secretary Baldoz instructed her to make the construction company and principal accountable for all the monetary and social benefits due the workers, including underpayment of salaries, unpaid salaries, remittance of all social security benefits, and other monetary claims if the company is found liable. She directed DOLE National Capital Region Alex Avila to locate the principal and the subcontractor’s offices in Quezon City and to subject them to immediate complaint assessment of their compliance with labor laws and occupational safety and health standards.

She excoriated the construction company and its principal for taking for granted the health and safety of their workers and warned them not to take advantage of the circumstances and seeming helplessness of the victims’ families by shortchanging them of their salaries and other benefits due them.

The labor and employment chief further explained that the families of the victims—both dead and injured—may claim employee compensation benefits with the Employee Compensation Commission (ECC), an attached agency of the DOLE, even if they are not enrolled with the Social Security System, but without prejudice to the latter’s filing of cases to enforce compliance with their obligations.

“As long as there is an employee-employer relationship, a worker can file a compensation claim with any SSS branch under the Employees Compensation Program,” she said, directing ECC Executive Director Stella Z. Banawis to assist the workers in filing and facilitating their ECP claims.

In her order, the DOLE regional official required Hoclim Co Construction Corporation, among others, to show proof of extended benefits/financial assistance to the victims’ families; proof of payment of salaries and remittances for SSS, PhilHealth, and PagIBIG contributions.

She said the cease-and-desist order will stay until the presence of imminent danger is removed and the company has complied with all the requirements of the findings of the investigation, including the submission of a Revised Work Procedure for Vertical Construction and the conduct of Safety Education for Construction Safety Regulations.

Admitting that the Labor Code of the Philippines does not provide criminal penalty for non-compliance with some safety and health regulations, Baldoz urged the Congress of the Philippines to enact a tripartite-endorsed draft law containing heavy penalties for violators of the country’s health and safety laws.

“The DOLE is pushing for this draft proposal which our tripartite social partners in the National Tripatite Industry Peace Council fully support,” she said.