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Peza suspends Davao-based call center, NCCC after tragic fire

Peza Director General Charito Plaza INQUIRER file photo

The Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza) ordered the suspension of operations of the Davao-based call center company which caught fire last December, a top official said.

Peza Director General Charito Plaza recently told reporters that the investment promotion agency has also suspended the operations of the mall where the call center firm was located.

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BPO firm Research Now SSI (RN SSI) and the mall New City Commercial Center (NCCC) have been registered under Peza as a company locator and an economic zone developer, respectively, Plaza said.

Plaza said that a suspension order means a “suspension of operations and incentives” until the companies are cleared by the necessary government authorities.

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On December 23, a fire broke out on the third floor of the NCCC. The call center was located on the fourth floor.

A news report showed that the alarm system of the RN SSI was not linked to the mall, which could explain why the workers were not aware of the blaze. About 38 people, including a mall security officer, died from the fire.

Not compliant

Peza’s findings showed that the RN SSI has not been compliant to Peza’s requirements for fire safety since 2013.

“In 2013, SSI did not comply to Peza requirements, so we did not issue a fire safety and inspection certificate. Every year (since then), there were requirements which they did not comply to,” Plaza said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The common procedure, said Plaza, would be to first register the building where the business process outsourcing (BPO) firm would be located. However, this was not the case with NCCC, which she said was constructed prior to its Peza registration.

According to the company website, the NCCC Mall Davao was opened in 2003. Plaza said that the mall has been annually securing its building permit and fire permit from the local government. Both the call center and the mall were only registered under Peza in 2008.

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Citing a probe in light of the recent fire, Plaza said that the call center failed to give “the latest preventive maintenance records” of necessary equipment such as fire extinguishers, fire detection and alarm system.

The company also “missed to conduct” fire exit drills at least twice a year.

Moreover, the company, which specializes on digital research data, has failed to submit proof of compliance for their annual inspection reports in the form of updated action plans, she said.

“Because of this, we are issuing a suspension order. Peza will now issue this to both NCCC as ecozone developer and SSI in Davao. It would be effective immediately,” she said. Plaza added she signed the orders on Dec. 29.

They still enjoyed tax perks 

However, in spite of these lapses, Plaza admitted that the company was still able to enjoy tax perks under Peza.

“Maybe this is what Peza missed that’s why we are starting to straighten everything,” she said.

Some of the Peza incentives for BPO firms include four to six years of income tax holiday (ITH). After the ITH period, there company could pay a special five percent tax on gross income earned in lieu of all national and local taxes.

When asked why the failure to secure a permit in 2013 did not lead to an suspension then, Plaza said that they “usually give them the chance” to make up for it in the coming year.

Giving up the reins

This comes as Peza is in the middle of drafting a memorandum of agreement with the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), giving up its responsibilities to look after the fire safety requirements of Peza-registered companies.

In the aftermath of the Resorts World Manila fire, the Department of Justice issued a legal opinion that said only BFP had the power and authority to enforce the Revised Fire Code of the Philippines of 2008.

Peza, on the other hand, insisted on being responsible for implementing the fire code in Peza economic zones, especially since the fire code did not necessarily speak of exclusivity in implementing its rules.

“We decided to give up all the usual responsibilities of Peza, meaning the issuance of the permit and the inspection would be done by the BFP for our (registered companies),” she said.  /jpv

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TAGS: Business, call center, mall fire, NCCC, Peza
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