Kentex survivors, victims' kin file complaint vs Baldoz, Roxas
MANILA, Philippines – Surviving workers of footwear maker Kentex Manufacturing, as well as relatives of those who perished in the fire that gutted the company's two-story factory, filed before the Ombudsman a complaint against two Cabinet members and other officials.
In a letter filed Monday, June 8, the complainants – calling themselves the Justice for Kentex Workers Alliance – asked the anti-corruption body to look into alleged violations committed by the following government officials:
- Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz
- Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II
- Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Metro Manila Director Alex Avila
- Labor laws compliance officer Joseph Vedasto
- Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Director Ariel Barayuga
- BFP Metro Manila Director Sergio Malupeng Soriano Jr
Valenzuela City Fire Marshall Mel Jose Lagan
Fire Safety Enforcement Section Chief Ed Groover Oculam
A dozen of the survivors and victims' kin staged a protest rally before filing the complaint-letter, which seeks "a formal investigation and the filing of appropriate criminal (i.e., negligence resulting to homicide and physical injuries, etc.) and administrative charges (i.e. misfeasance of duties, neglect in the performance of functions, etc.) if warranted."
Their complaint comes after President Benigno Aquino III tagged only Kentex owners and Valenzuela local government officials as among those who may face possible charges over the massive fire.
Workers were wary that Aquino was sparing DOLE and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), whose officials are now the subject of the present complaint.
Among the organizers of the Justice for Kentex Workers Alliance, Nadia de Leon of the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) explained that the "exemption" of other agencies shows the government's soft stance on ensuring occupational safety and health (OSH). Enforcing OSH in workplaces is an inter-agency effort, she said.
The justice department already formed a special panel to look into people liable for the fire. The Ombudsman is also conducting a fact-finding probe on its own. (READ: DOJ creates special panel on Kentex factory fire)
De Leon said the complaint now filed differs from the ongoing probes, as it is lodged by the very workers who experienced the blaze.
Content of complaint
The complainants cited DOLE's issuance of a compliance certificate to Kentex last September 18, 2014, despite what later turned out to be glaring violations against general labor standards.
The certificate was issued by Avila based on a March 2014 joint assessment conducted by Vedasto. Vedasto is already under probe by the DOLE. (READ: Metro Manila needs more labor laws compliance officers)
The Kentex factory whose windows were barred by metal railings was ravaged by a 5-hour fire on May 13, killing at least 72 workers trapped inside and injuring others.
Initial state findings reveal that the factory engulfed by the blaze did not have a fire detection and alarm system and a protected fire exit.
Aquino said the local government headed by Mayor Rex Gatchalian should be held accountable for issuing a "provisional" business permit to Kentex despite the lack of a fire safety inspection certificate – a violation of the Fire Code.
Gatchalian has since ordered the closure of establishments without such a certificate, insisting that the previous issuances of business permits were part of a DILG-issued memorandum on streamlining local businesses.
A fact-finding team composed of militant labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno, IOHSAD, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, and the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research also alleged that Kentex mishandled and mislabeled a combustible chemical.
In their letter to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, the coalition cites the same violations but expresses alarm over the pinpointing of government officials to one another in terms of responsibility.
"As things now stand, government agencies are now passing the blame to one another with respect to the liability over the Kentex conflagration," read the complaint. "We have no other choice but to seek the assistance of your good office so that we can obtain the justice that we seek."
Setback to PH manufacturing
The deadly Kentex fire is viewed as a setback for the Philippine manufacturing industry, an industry like many in developing and booming economies that attract foreign investors partly due to cheap labor.
Surviving relatives of workers engulfed by the fire told Rappler of horrid conditions inside the factory, including lack of masks amid the stench of paint and processed rubber, extreme heat, and long hours without the corresponding overtime pay, among others.
Fifty-year-old Marietta "Marie" Madiclom, a Kentex casualty, toiled in the footwear factory for 15 years without health insurance, social insurance, an assured minimum wage, and other law-mandated protection for workers, her husband said.
Labor rights advocates fear sweatshop-like conditions in factories and plants that line the area in the village of Ugong, the site of the Kentex factory.
At scheduled intervals, villagers in house clothes and in slippers congregate in front of tall gates to enter the walled buildings where they work as low-wage earners.
Labor groups have seized the aftermath of the unfortunate incident as an opportunity to push for pro-worker reforms, including stronger regulation, if not a complete ban, on contractual labor. (READ: No push from Aquino to pass pro-worker laws)
Kentex owes 99 illegally subcontracted workers at least P7.8 million in unpaid wages, excluding benefits such as overtime pay, night differential, 13th month pay, holiday pay, vacation and sick leave pay, refund of cash bond, and others.
The Kentex fire is considered the largest industrial accident in the Philippines in recent decades and the 3rd largest fire in terms of casualties in the country's history.
Baldoz and labor groups had reiterated their call to criminalize grave violations of occupational safety and health standards by employers, as the 4-decades-old Labor Code merely imposes a fine for OSH offenses regardless of lives lost.
Baldoz has also ordered a nationwide special assessment and surprise visits of all manufacturing establishments, urging a "full stop" of "sweatshop" practices. (READ: Deaths in PH factory show need for decent jobs) – Rappler.com