Valenzuela Mayor Gatchalian faces criminal raps over Kentex fire

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice has recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against Valenzuela Mayor Rexlon Gatchalian and at least 10 others over the massive footwear factory blaze that killed at least 74 in May.

The DOJ made the statement on Thursday, July 23, after it approved the recommendation of the special panel that looked into the fire that struck the factory of Kentex Manufacturing Corporation in Valenzuela City on May 13.

The DOJ said the following face charges for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Fire Code:

Gatchalian, Padayao, Carreon, Avendan, Oculam, and Lagan face charges over violation of the Fire Code as they supposedly issued Kentex a business permit without the fire safety inspection certificate of its factory. They also failed to cancel the permit despite Kentex's compliance failure.

The 3 Bureau of Fire Protection officers were found by the panel to have grossly neglected their duty as they failed to inspect Kentex at least once a year.

Kentex owners also face administrative charges, based on the findings of the special panel, the DOJ said.

Kentex officials, welder face charges

Kentex operations manager Terrence King Ong, along with the owner and two employees of Ace Shutter Corporation, will be charged with reckless imprudence resulting to multiple homicide and multiple physical injuries before the Valenzuela prosecutor's office.

Ace Shutter was contracted for the welding work that sparked the fire at the footwear factory. Ace Shutter owner Rosalina Uy Ngo, as well as employees Oscar Romero and Wilmer Arenal, will be charged with Ong.

The DOJ said that a further probe can determine if other Kentex officials including Ong King Guan and Beato Ang are as equally culpable as Ong in terms of the safety of the establishment. 

The DOJ said that all the charges may be filed together with the victims' kin as private complainants.

The DOJ panel also recommended a further investigation of the possible liabilities of Department of Labor and Employment-National Capital Region officials "for their issuance of a certificate of compliance in September 2014 in favor of Kentex, notwithstanding the violations of pertinent Labor laws, and DOLE’s own Occupational Safety and Health Standards (OSHS)." (READ: Metro Manila needs more labor law compliance officers)

The massive fire is considered as the largest industrial accident in the Philippines in decades and shed light on widespread non-compliance with occupational safety and health standards in workplaces. (READ: Deaths in PH factory fire show need for decent jobs)

Independently sourced by Rappler, the video below shows a worker of Kentex factory applying a chemical into pressed rubber without a mask.

 

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. 

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) – Rappler.com