Migrante International received an independent report on the explosion written by an investigating team consisting of Saudi engineers, experts and consultants, which revealed that the extent of the damage and the high number of casualties were caused mainly by the volatility of the area and not solely by the accident per se.
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Migrant organizations under Migrante International criticized the Aquino government for “being too quick to accept reports and allegations on Kebeng’s accountability” when it has not even conducted an investigation yet.
“Based on statements Philippine government representatives have given the media, it appears as if they have already accepted that Kebeng is solely to blame. They did so without going through a thorough investigation of the case. Is this what the government means when it says it’s protecting the welfare of OFWs and upholding their interest?,” Martinez argued.
Ruben Kebeng is the overseas Filipino worker being accused of being solely responsible for the fuel tank explosion in Saudi Arabia last November 1. The accident left 23 dead, including another OFW, and 131 other people injured, 14 of them Filipinos.
Kebeng is the driver of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker that smashed into a flyover in Riyadh earlier this month. Among the fatalities was Florentino Santiago, another OFW working in a construction site nearby. The accident has generated much public interest and even outrage because of the extent of the damage in such a heavily populated area.
Saudi news reported that Kebeng’s truck veered into a bridge pylon at a junction on Khurais Road in Riyadh at about 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 1. The gas leaked and the truck burst into flames, also causing nearby vehicles to ignite. A building also caught fire.
Kebeng has since been arrested and is set to stand trial. He was with five other Filipinos in the truck, but he is the only one being charged for the accident.
Migrante International said it has received an independent report on the explosion written by an investigating team consisting of Saudi engineers, experts and consultants. The group said they were given a copy of the report by sympathetic contacts after they learned that Kebeng is being pinned for the tragedy,
In the report, the explosion was attributed to a number of factors: the accident as Kebeng’s gas truck hit the post near the explosion site; the gas leak caused by the accident; and the high-level of flammability of the Alzahed Contractors Building, which was the structure the truck hit.
The engineers and experts, however, also concluded in the report that the extent of the damage and the high number of casualties were caused mainly by the volatility of the area where the accident took place. The over-all damage and the loss of life were not caused by the accident per se.
Said the findings, the Alzahed Contractors Building is so highly-flammable that it caused an unconfirmed vapour cloud explosion (UVCE). The cloud grew to massive proportions, increasing thereby, the intensity of the explosion and the wide area it affected.
Migrante International chairman Garry Martinez said they believe that it is “unfair to place the blame for the deadly explosion solely on him.”
“The findings should be considered. It’s clear that the explosion was caused by other factors, and they should be taken into account and used in the defense of Kebeng,” he said.
Martinez said they will submit the report and analysis to legislators to prompt them to conduct an independent investigation on the explosion.
Prevent miscarriage of justice
For its part, the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM) issued a warning that Kebeng could easily fall victim to scapegoatism and anti-migrant hysteria if the Aquino government does nothing to ensure his fair trial.
APMM managing director Ramon Bultroon argued that the inadequate intervention by the Philippine government in trials of OFWs in Arab countries has often led to miscarriages of justice.
“The case of Ruben Kebeng can easily be the subject of such mishandling, given the large number of casualties involved,” he said.
APMM is a migrant service institution that has been promoting the human rights and welfare in the region since it’s founding in 1984. Bultron himself was a migrant organizer in the Middle East prior to his involvement in the APMM.
Bulton said that while he does not want to prejudge the case by casting an opinion on Kebeng’s guilt or innocence, he said the practice of paying drivers commissions for extra trips in addition to their regular pay, and the KSA governments imposition of a truck ban on certain busy hours, may have contributed greatly to the chances of the accident happening.
“It is much like the prevalent practice among bus companies in the Philippines, which has been considered as one of the biggest causes of road accidents along EDSA. The difference in KSA is that the truck ban adds to the pressure on drivers like Kebeng,” he explained.
Bultron said it is the responsibility of the Philippine government to provide the best legal assistance to all OFWs who run afoul of the law abroad. He said the government and its agencies should conduct discreet investigations on their own to make certain that the findings of local police are not tainted with anti-migrant prejudices and politics.
“This has happened before in KSA, and even involved maltreatment of suspects as has been reported by such human rights watch groups as Amnesty International and International Detention Coalition,” he said.
The APMM head vowed that his organization will be closely monitoring the progress of the case to ensure that Kebeng is not neglected by the Philippine government, and that his rights as a migrant and as a detainee are respected at all times.