The huge fire that ravaged the slipper factory of Kentex Manufacturing Corporation earlier today in Valenzuela City is perhaps the worst fire incident in the country in over a decade. According to press reports, 72 badly-charred bodies had been recovered. Authorities say it may take up to two weeks before identification of the remains can be completed.
The finger-pointing will have to be put on hold for the mean time. The most urgent thing to do now is to assist the families of the factory workers in settling their hospitalization and burial expenses. Once the dust clears, other issues will have to be dealt with:
1) The factory workers who died are most likely the breadwinners of their respective families. Are they going to be provided with long-term livelihood assistance and educational scholarships by their erstwhile employer or from the national and/or local government?
2) The circumstances that led to the accident must be thoroughly investigated. Initial reports indicate that the deadly fire was caused by welding works in the main gate of the factory, a spot near where flammable chemicals are stored.
In a statement, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said an inspection conducted in Kentex’ slipper factory last September 2014 showed that the company is compliant of occupational safety and health standards set by the agency. If that is so, then how does this all add up?
3) Several survivors noted that the company never initiated fire drills for its workers. They complained about the insufficient number of fire exits. They also added that the windows in the factory were covered with steel bars and chicken wires.
With employees earning just P200 a day, is this slipper factory a sweatshop in disguise? If it is, labor officials and city officials that are guilty of being in connivance with the factory owners must be held accountable.
This tragedy easily brings to mind three major other fire-related tragedy the past twenty years. First is the Ozone disco tragedy in March 1996 where nearly 200 people, mostly graduating college students, perished. That is considered to be the worst of its kind in Philippine history.
In August 2001, 75 people died when an early morning fire ravaged Manor Hotel, also in Quezon City. Most of the victims were Born-Again Christians under the Don Clowers Ministries.
Three years after, the nation was stunned by the explosion of Cagayan de Oro-bound Super Ferry 14 just minutes after it left Manila harbor. An investigation later revealed the incident, where 116 people died, to be a terrorist attack perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf Group.
Now, will justice be served against King G. Ong, the president of Kentex Manufacturing Corporation? Only time will tell.