Victims' kin, survivors file criminal raps vs Kentex

CASUALTIES. Authorities examine charred bodies of workers killed in the Kentex factory fire in Valenzuela City on May 14, 2015. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

CASUALTIES. Authorities examine charred bodies of workers killed in the Kentex factory fire in Valenzuela City on May 14, 2015.

Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Relatives of casualties as well as workers spared in the fire that gutted a footwear factory last month trooped to the Valenzuela justice hall on Wednesday, June 17, to file criminal raps against the owners of Kentex Manufacturing Corporation. 

A total of 52 – 8 casualties' kin and 44 survivors – named 9 Kentex owners as respondents in their complaint.

Forty-seven complainants attempted to file their case on Tuesday, June 16, but failed to beat the 5 pm deadline at the fiscal's office given the sheer number of documents needed to be reproduced for their legal action. 

On Wednesday noon, all 52 finished subscribing to their affidavits.

The following were charged with reckless imprudence resulting to homicide, and violating the Wage Rationalization Act, the Labor Code, and the Social Security System (SSS) law:

In their complaint, the victims' family members cited the lack of a fire drill for workers, fire detection and alarm system, and protected fire exits inside the factory. They also alleged that Kentex management improperly labeled a combustible chemical and failed to orient workers on the chemical's nature.

Kentex workers hired through varying arrangements also alleged in their complaint that they were not paid an assured minimum wage, holiday premiums, 13th month pay, and overtime pay. They said their SSS premiums were never remitted despite salary deductions.

Kentex's factory in Valenzuela City caught fire on May 13, killing at least 72. Others who escaped were injured.

The deadly blaze shed light on widespread non-compliance with occupational safety and health standards (OSH) in workplaces. The labor department reiterated its call to criminalize grave OSH violations (READ: Deaths in PH factory fire show need for decent jobs)

Call for justice

One of the complainants, 49-year-old Marilyn Yco, said she took legal action to vindicate the death of her eldest son.

Yco's son Frederick, 24, had been an assembly worker at Kentex for only a full week when the fire struck the factory. She said Frederick was paid lower than P300 a day, short of the P481 minimum wage in Metro Manila.

Yco went to the justice hall with her niece and mother-in-law, who donned a white shirt showing the photo of Frederick, and a call for justice for Kentex workers like him.

CRY FOR JUSTICE. Relatives cry justice for Kentex worker Frederick Yco, a newly-hired assembly man among the fire casualties. Photo by Buena Bernal/Rappler

CRY FOR JUSTICE. Relatives cry justice for Kentex worker Frederick Yco, a newly-hired assembly man among the fire casualties.

Photo by Buena Bernal/Rappler

Ammied Rada, 33, whose sister Gerly and brother Ericson were among the casualties, was a former Kentex employee. He said no personal protective equipment were provided for workers like him, despite their daily exposure to chemicals mixed with pressed rubber.

The deadly Kentex factory blaze is seen as a setback for the Philippine manufacturing industry, an industry no different from those in developing and booming economies that draw foreign investors partly due to cheap labor.

Labor groups have aggressively pushed for pro-worker reforms in the aftermath of the tragic fire, but President Benigno Aquino III brushed off calls to certify as urgent any of the pending proposals. (READ: Metro Manila needs more labor laws compliance officers)

Relatives of workers killed in 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 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.

The Kentex fire is considered the largest industrial accident in the Philippines in recent decades, and the third largest fire in terms of casualties in the country's history. – Rappler.com