Filipinas in Iraq hotel fire died of smoke inhalation — diplomat
Police and military personnel cordon off the Capitol Hotel in Erbil. REUTERS
It may take weeks before the remains of the 14 Filipinas who perished in a hotel fire in Iraq's Kurdistan region would be repatriated and handed over to their grieving families in the Philippines, the country's top envoy in Iraq said Saturday night.
The Filipinas were among the 21 killed in a fire that struck the Capitol Hotel in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan autonomous region on Saturday.
Elmer Cato, charge d’affaires of the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad, and his team arrived in Erbil at 10 a.m. local time and immediately went to the hospital morgue where the remains of the Filipina workers were taken.
Cato said the remains were identifiable. The victims were working in a spa in the hotel's basement.
"The cause of death was smoke inhalation," he told GMA News Online.
He said they're still identifying the fatalities. The Department of Foreign Affairs will immediately notify the victims' next of kin as soon as the identification process gets finished.
13 not 14 fatalities
In a message to GMA News Online on Sunday morning Consul Cato corrected the number of Pilipina fatalities in the Iraq fire.
"It's been a long day for us since arriving in Erbil this morning. This is what we could share so far: There are 13, not 14, confirmed Filipino fatalities in the fire at the Capitol Hotel on Friday."
"Six other [people] lost their lives in the tragedy. The Kurdistan Regional Government has ruled out terrorism in the incident. Investigators said faulty wiring triggered a fire at the basement level of the hotel where our kababayans were working," Cato added.
Asked earlier when the remains would finally be flown to Manila, Cato said, "We don't know yet. It's not normally quick."
Before leaving for Erbil, Cato described the incident as worse than the Gulf War.
"Grabe ito …We lost more people in one incident in one day compared to the number we lost since the Gulf War," Cato told GMA News Online before he left for Baghdad International Airport.
The Philippine government lifted the ban on the deployment of workers to the Kurdistan region in 2012. The deployment ban however, remains in force for the rest of Iraq, Cato said.
The Philippines has placed most of Iraq under Alert Level 4, which calls for mandatory repatriation, after the Islamic State captured the city of Mosul in 2014.
Cato clarified that Kurdistan is under Alert Level I.
"A deployment ban is still in place although Filipinos in Kurdistan can avail themselves of the Balik Manggagawa Program that could allow them to go home to the Philippines and return to their jobs in Kurdistan," he said.
"We estimate around 2,000 Filipinos are in Iraq, majority of them in Kurdistan," he added.
The Philippines is among the world's top labor-exporters with about 8.6 million skilled and unskilled workers scattered abroad, earning more than they could in the country where jobs are scarce and poverty is widespread. —APG/LBG, GMA News