Authorities Probe Reports of Looting
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Police today investigated reports that firemen stripped bodies of money and jewelry while cleaning up after a blaze that destroyed a Manila luxury hotel last week, and a fire superintendent said the men may have taken the valuables to keep them from being stolen.
Color news film made available to The Associated Press Tuesday showed firemen and unidentified civilians removing money and jewelry from corpses at the Regent of Manila hotel before the bodies were loaded into ambulances. The film was provided by a source who requested anonymity.
Area fire superintendent Alfredo Garcia said in a telephone interview that the men may have ″decided to remove all valuables from the bodies of the victims lest they be blamed later if these things got lost or stolen somewhere else.″ However, he did not rule out the possibility that the firemen may have been looting.
Twenty-five people, 17 of them foreigners, died in the blaze in the 11- story hotel in the Manila suburb of Pasay City.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy today identified the seventh American killed in the fire as Giovanni Chung of Honolulu, Hawaii, who was with a group of U.S. Navy engineers attending a meeting at the hotel.
Other fatalities included eight Filipinos, six Americans, three Britons, an Australian, a Canadian, a Dutchman, a Hong Kong Chinese, a Japanese, a Singaporean and a Sri Lankan.
Garcia said some firemen had been questioned by high level police authorities, but he did not know the outcome of the investigation. Police Superintendent Brig. Gen. Ruben Escarcha could not be contacted for comment despite repeated calls to his office today.
Garcia said a fire superintendent from another area of Manila had turned over to him $148, one ring, four gold necklaces and a pair of gold-framed eyeglasses that had been removed from some of the bodies of the victims. Garcia said, however, the items were not marked and he had no way of telling who they belonged to.
Col. Roland Siquijor, police chief in Pascay City, said investigators had given him a list of personal effects such as wallets, jewelry, and false teeth that other firemen and policemen had removed from the victims’ bodies for safe-keeping. He said the items were not marked.
Four policemen had earlier been reported arrested on charges of looting, but the Philippine News Agency quoted a military prosecutor as saying he could find no evidence or any witness against any of the four.
Two Manila newspapers also reported Wednesday that journalists and civilians saw some local reporters stealing books, magazines and bottles of wine and liquor from stores in the hotel’s lobby. The National Press Club and an association of police reporters said they were conducting an investigation.
Garcia said it was not standard practice for firemen to strip bodies of personal effects, but added the men may have thought that was the ″best thing to do under the circumstances.″
″They probably didn’t want the victims’ belongings to be stolen either in the hospitals or in the morgues and then get blamed for it because they were the first to reach the bodies,″ Garcia said.