“The criminal negligence of the Department of Labor and Employment and the Bureau of Fire Protection resulted in the deaths of Kentex workers…”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – “Saved by the DOJ (Department of Justice)”– this is how various labor advocates reacted to what Anakpawis Partylist calls as “obviously politicized” recommendation of the Department of Justice on the Kentex fire tragedy. They said the DOJ is trying to save Local Government Sec. Roxas and at the same time, offering a “gift to Aquino” in time for his State of the Nation Address, similar to the Ombudsman’s act of clearing him from any charges in relation to the bloodbath in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
After a second batch of Kentex fire survivors and family members trooped to the Office of the Ombudsman on Wednesday (July 22) to bolster their fellow survivors’ calls for a probe and filing of charges, Justice Sec. Leila De Lima issued her department’s recommendation which excluded the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) from accountability. These are the very departments the workers had been urging the Ombudsman to charge for “criminal neglect” and “reckless imprudence resulting in homicide and physical injury.”
The Office of the Ombudsman has not yet acted on the workers’ demand for investigation and filing of charges on these three departments.
The Kentex survivors and many other labor advocates including the Anakpawis Partylist have cited numerous grounds why the heads of these three departments should roll.
“During the congressional inquiry last May, a labor law compliance officer from DOLE admitted they issued a Certificate of Compliance to Kentex Manufacturing on September 2014 amid obvious fire and safety hazard at its factory in Valenzuela,” said Anakpawis Representative Fernando “Ka Pando” Hicap. Rep. Hicap filed House Resolution No. 2099 to investigate the fire tragedy.
According to the Justice for Kentex Victims alliance, a group of the victims’ families supported by labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), the BFP, which is under the DILG, did not issue a Fire Safety Inspection Certificate for 2014 and 2015, but it did not take any steps to close down the factory.
“The criminal negligence of the DOLE and BFP resulted in the deaths of Kentex workers, the DOJ should include them in the list of those to be charged, Hicap said.
Insulating Mar Roxas, Aquino allies
Anakpawis Rep. Hicap also criticized the DOJ recommendation for trying to “insulate” Sec. Mar Roxas who wants to be next year’s standard-bearer for the administration’s Liberal Party. Roxas is already trailing in popularity ratings and currently in a slugfest for the position of standard-bearer. He could not afford to be embroiled in a case of criminal negligence particularly one that led to the death of 73 people.
Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairperson of KMU, calls the DOJ recommendation a symptom at best of the country’s flawed laws, and at worst, a conscious move to maintain the national government’s lack of accountability with regard to workplace safety. The DOJ recommended filing charges against Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian, who is allied with political rivals of President Aquino.
“The absurdity of the DOJ panel’s refusal to file charges against national government agencies is highlighted by its recommendation to file charges against the employees and owner of Ace Shutter Corp., the company responsible for the welding work in the gates of Kentex,” Labog added.
In the fact-finding mission held by KMU and labor institutions, they concluded that the most to blame for having started the fire were the capitalists of Kentex, who they found had improperly handled huge volumes of highly-flammable chemical.
“They allowed the said chemical to be simply placed on the floor even as they asked Ace Shutter Corp. to carry out the welding job,” Labog said.
The labor center said the national government should uphold workplace, carry out mandatory inspection of all business establishments in the country, and impose imprisonment and stiff penalties as punishment for capitalists who violate workplace safety standards.