The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) XI confirmed yesterday the discovery of human remains inside the burnt New City Commercial Center (NCCC) mall during the ongoing demolition, more than six months after the fire incident.
But pending any claim, the BFP said they could not yet establish if the remains belong to another fire victim so they are currently maintaining the death toll at 38.
Senior Fire Officer 2 Ramil Gillado, the BFP regional chief investigation officer, said the set of human bones with a bit of decomposing flesh, was found by a member of the demolition team late afternoon of Wednesday.
“The body was not charred,” Gillado said.
However, there was no identification card or any items that could trace the identity of the body that was found in the scene.
A demolition team started destroying the burnt mall on May 21.
The team was on the process of demolishing a portion of the third floor when a contractor, identified as Rudy Lantaka Manatad, discovered the bones around 5:30 pm Wednesday, 201 days after the Dec. 23 blaze that trapped to death 38 persons.
The contractor then reported it to the management of NCCC Mall, which relayed the information to the investigating Inter-agency Task Force and the Bureau of Fire.
Mayor Sara Duterte Carpio, upon receiving the report, called BFP XI regional director Sr. Supt. Rico Neil Kwan Tiu to verify the report.
Gillado said it was reported to them around 6:20 p.m. on Wednesday.
The BFP, Davao City Police Office, the Talomo Police Precinct, and the Scene of the Crime Operatives were on site Wednesday night for the transfer of the remains.
Gillado said the remains were found at the storage room at the porcelain area located at the third floor, the same floor where the fire originated at its furniture area.
Gillado said the porcelain area is “a bit far” from the furniture area, and it was not directly hit by the fire.
The porcelain area was above the Ma-a Road entrance of the mall, fronting the McDonald’s outlet, at the western part of the mall.
The origin of the fire was at its north part, facing the open parking space, at the back of the mall.
Gillado said they could not conclude yet if the remains belong to another fire victim because there is still no claimant. An autopsy will also be conducted to determine the cause of the death, and the possible identity of the victim.
Gillado said they are not also discounting the possibility that the remains belong to Alexandra Moreno-Castillo, the last supposedly claimed victim.
The family of Moreno only settled for a key chain and a body part found at the fire scene after a body claim dispute.
The families of Moreno and another victim, Mikko Demafeliz, figured in a dispute over the last remaining body.
After a DNA test, it was settled that the body belonged to Demafeliz.
The retrieval operation resumed and the key chain and a bit body part were later found.
“Her retrieved body was not complete when it was claimed,” Gillado said. “There is a big possibility that the remains belong to Moreno as there is no claimant.”
The fire killed 37 workers of the US-based market research firm Survey Sampling International (SSI) and one NCCC mall security officer.
Except for the last one, the rest of the bodies were charred.
Most were identified through their belongings like watches, pendants, keychain and the like.
Only 38 families were listed as claimants.
Davao City Police Office (DCPO) Director Sr. Supt. Alexander Tagum said the bones were turned over to the regional Police Crime Laboratory.
“We are conducting autopsy investigation to identify the bones,” Tagum said. “So for now, we are still identifying it.”
In a statement, the NCCC Management said: “Right now we are focused on ensuring the proper identification of the body and preserving the dignity of the deceased.”