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DSWD chief raises issues of overcrowding, lack of fire exits in GHI facility in Senate hearing

Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Rex Gatchalian reiterated on Wednesday (July 5), the issues and violations committed by Gentle Hands Inc. (GHI) which led to the issuance of Cease-and-Desist Orders (CDOs) against the privately-run child caring facility during the Senate fact-finding hearing.

Secretary Gatchalian told the Senate Committee on Women, Family Relations and Gender Equality that the actions taken by the DSWD against the privately-run childcare facility were due to several violations that need to be immediately addressed by the Department.

Among the violations committed by the GHI facility in Project 4, Quezon City were overcrowding and the lack of fire exits which, according to the DSWD chief, “endangers the lives of the more than 100 children-residents.”

“Hindi po issue ang building. Ang issue ay ‘yung overcrowding… We don’t question their history. Their accolades are very good. But sometimes people get relaxed. And my point is when I did the spot check, imminent danger was there,” Secretary Gatchalian said during the committee hearing chaired by Senator Risa Hontiveros.

Secretary Gatchalian pointed out that based on the fire safety inspection conducted by the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), the GHI facility is only allowed to cater to less than 50 children.

“The Fire Code says that there are two types of residential care facilities – small scale and large scale. Pag small scale ka, hindi nila palalagyan ng sprinkler, ng ganyan, extinguisher lang sapat na… Pero ang ginawa po ng care facility, they probably got relaxed and pinuno nila nang pinuno, by their own account whether 149 or 127, it’s over its capacity,” Secretary Gatchalian said.

The DSWD chief added: “The point here is not the building. The point here is that [the GHI] is classified as a small-scale residential facility… Kaya noong nag-inspect ang Bureau of Fire [Protection], nagulat sila na 100 plus na yung nakatira sa loob.”

In his opening statement, Secretary Gatchalian welcomed the Senate inquiry since it will provide the chance for the DSWD to ventilate and explain the different issues regarding the issuance of the Cease-and-Desist Order (CDO) against GHI.

“I do understand that we will be asked about due process, we will be asked about the circumstances behind the Cease-and-Desist Order, and more importantly we will be asked to explain circumstances around re-traumatization. We welcome any type of questions more so for these three main items,” Secretary Gatchalian said.

The DSWD issued CDOs against GHI’s Quezon City childcare facility on May 22 and June 13 after finding out several violations and due to the revocation of its fire safety inspection certificate (FSIC) by the Bureau of Fire Protection, respectively.

During the Senate hearing, Atty. Freddie Lilagan, head of the investigation and adjudication division of the Quezon City Building Department, pointed out that their office issued a revocation of the building permit of GHI for violating several terms, including the fire openings and allowable number of floors or story of the building.

“The Gentle Hands has a permit for a three-story (building) with roof deck. However, sometime in February 2017, they made a renovation for a fencing permit. In that instance, a phone call was made to our office, complaining about the fence. So, we looked into that. However, after that, we saw several violations. One of the violations was, as part of the complaint, the firewall openings,” Atty. Lilagan explained.

The QC Building Department official added: “Sometime in 2017, nagdagdag po sila ng isang floor. [They now have] four floors and a roof deck… If you do that, you compromise the entire structure, you compromise the safety of the building.”

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