Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Monday, January 26, 2009

Senate to probe Hanjin death toll at Subic Bay

The Senate will investigate fatal incidents at a sprawling shipyard within the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority facility following reports that numerous Filipinos die due to work-related accidents.

This, after another Filipino laborer, 19-year-old Raldon del Rosario died after an 800-kilogram metal door being installed at the shipyard assembly section of Hanjin Heavy Industries Corp. Philippines fell on him. Another worker, Camalio Buchie, 24, reportedly suffered a leg injury due to the incident.

Mr. Del Rosario was the 18th victim of work-related accidents in the shipyard since Hanjin’s shipbuilding activities began in 2006.

Sen. Jose "Jinggoy" E. Estrada has scheduled an investigation on Wednesday by the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development, which he chairs.

"We need to conduct an immediate investigation why so many Filipino workers die there," Mr. Estrada said in a phone interview.

He said that the committee can recommend the "banning" of Hanjin if the panel finds the company remiss in its responsibilities to ensure the safety of its workers.

As this developed, Korean worker Choi Dong Baek, 51-year-old supervisor, died half past midnight Sunday after a forklift operated by Filipino worker Menti Dacanay ran over him, said SBMA Administrator Armand C. Arezza.

But Mr. Arezza said the accident was "not related to the construction of ships," explaining that Mr. Dacanay did not see the victim while they were transferring the location of a basketball ring.

"We’re ready to explain our side [in the Senate inquiry]. Not all incidents are work-related, some are just accidents," he said in a phone interview.

Sen. Pilar Juliana "Pia" S. Cayetano has filed Senate Resolution No. 807 to look into the issue, saying "it’s exasperating how our authorities have allowed these deaths to continue without imposing stringent measures and taking legal action against all those responsible on behalf of the victims."

Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Choi Joong Kyung wrote Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Dec. 23, cautioning the chamber against a possible inquiry that may cast "substantial and negative repercussions" on Hanjin.

"The tremendous political influence of the Senate means that its actions may have fatal effects to the existence of an actor in the private sector... The policy implication of all its present actions have deep and far reaching effects within and beyond the boundaries of the Philippines," the Korean ambassador wrote.

The Korean ambassador was reacting to a privilege speech of Ms. Cayetano on Dec. 16 when she called for an immediate attention into mounting fatalities at the Hanjin shipyard.

But Ms. Cayetano, in a privilege speech last week, said the chamber should be unfazed by the reactions of the Korean ambassador to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation.

Hanjin officials in Subic could not be reached for comment. - Bernard U. Allauigan, BusinessWorld

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