“The more than 72 workers who died certainly deserve better.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — The preliminary investigation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) on criminal cases filed by survivors and relatives of Kentex factory fire finally started Monday February 22, nine months since the fire that trapped and killed more than 72 workers.
Survivors and relatives grouped under the “Justice for Kentex Workers Alliance” held a picket in front of the DOJ with placards shaped like rubber flip flops or slippers, the products of Kentex. The group condemned the delay in the hearing. They had filed criminal charges against Kentex owners Beato Ang, Ong King Guan, and six others, before the Valenzuela Regional Trial Court June 17 last year, or two months after the factory fire.
But the case did not progress in the said court — some protesters told Bulatlat that they were simply told that no hearing was scheduled yet, and now they were able to confirm that the case was brought to the DOJ. Unfortunately, survivors and relatives active in the Justice for Kentex Workers Alliance said they did not receive the DOJ notification for this Monday’s first scheduled hearing.
“We kept following up with the Valenzuela RTC, they would tell us the cases we filed were with the DOJ already, but they didn’t tell us about this first DOJ schedule. So, that’s why there’s been no hearing taking place in Valenzuela,” said Ammied Rada, coordinator of Justice for Kentex Workers Alliance.
He said they are not happy about the delay and the lack of information about the hearing on the criminal charges they filed. “The more than 72 workers who died certainly deserve better,” said Rada. He himself is a survivor of the factory fire but he lost two of his siblings: his sister and their family’s youngest, who died at 21, and his 25- year old brother. The latter had worked for five years in Kentex, but he was not considered a regular worker. Instead, he was what they call a “casual, agency worker.”
At the time of the fire, Rada and his siblings were receiving P202 ($4.30) per day, an amount less than half the prevailing minimum wage in the capital, which was P466 ($9.91).
Nine months and still waiting for justice
The Kentex survivors, through the Justice for Kentex Workers Alliance, said they had to hold various protest actions before the DOJ acted on the criminal charges they filed. The DOJ then recommended that only Kentex’s operations manager should be criminally charged over the death of more than 72 workers.
Rada said then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was “biased in favor of the capitalists of Kentex.”
Despite the decision of a DOJ Task Force not to recommend criminal charges against the Kentex owners themselves, the Kentex survivors still named its owners and top executives as respondents, as well as the head of Bureau of Fire Protection. The case currently with the DOJ alleges reckless imprudence resulting in homicide and falsification of public documents on the part of Kentex. The latter has to do with their fire safety permit. The Kentex workers and survivors alleged that the local government had not given Kentex the required fire permit, but the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) made it appear that the company was given one.