Razed factory had no fire permit

By Robertzon Ramirez, The Philippine Star

Posted at May 19 2015 09:11 AM | Updated as of May 19 2015 05:11 PM

MANILA - The Valenzuela City government issued a provisional business permit to Kentex Manufacturing Corp. even without a fire safety inspection certificate from the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).

Some 72 people were killed after a fire gutted the Kentex Manufacturing Inc. slipper factory in Barangay Ugong, Valenzuela on May 13.

The special inter-agency task force investigating the fire has required BFP officials in Valenzuela to determine why Kentex was able to operate despite the firm’s failure to get a fire safety inspection certificate, an official said yesterday.

BFP spokesman Renato Marcial told The STAR that the bureau had required Valenzuela BFP officials to submit all the documents of Kentex to the inter-agency task force to verify the initial report that the company has no fire safety inspection certificate but was able to operate.

Citing the Fire Code of the Philippines, Marcial explained that a fire safety clearance is a pre-requisite in securing a business permit, and if they do not have this document “definitely the establishment will not be allowed to operate.”

He said that the BFP should first conduct an inspection of the building or establishment before a local government unit (LGU) can issue a business or mayor’s permit.

Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian admitted that they processed the “provisional business permit” of Kentex on Jan. 15, 2015, which is “within the mandate of the LGU” and that was the reason why the factory was able to operate.

Gatchalian explained that the provisional business permit of Kentex was endorsed to the BFP for inspection, but “they never got back” with negative comments.

“What the LGU gave them was a provisional business permit. Now, some people are saying that is not allowed, and let me refer you to all citations: 2010 circular number one, it’s a joint circular of the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) and the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government)... In that circular they are trying to address the red tape in getting permits and what they said there was they are enjoining the LGU like Valenzuela to set up one-stop shops,” he said, adding that the joint memorandum also acknowledges the existence of provisional business permits.

Other requirements like the fire safety certificate can be complied with in one year, the mayor said.

The BFP, however, stood firm that an LGU will not be allowed to issue a business permit to any business establishment without first securing the fire safety inspection certificate.

Marcial said that a joint memorandum cannot, in any way, supersede the Fire Code of the Philippines, which is a law.

Kentex counsel Renato Paraiso said that he could not comment on the issue, since the personnel who can verify the information were among those who died in the fire. He added that all the documents were also burned in the fire.

More charges against Kentex

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said Kentex and its labor subcontractor CJC Manpower Services face more charges.

Catherine Parado, director of the DOLE Bureau of Working Condition (BWC), said that aside from criminal liability, Kentex and its subcontractors could also be held liable for various violations of the Labor Code.

Based on initial information gathered by DOLE, Parado said it appears that Kentex and CJC are engaged in illegal subcontracting.

Alex Avila, director of the DOLE National Capital Region, said that he is set to issue a cease and desist order against CJC.

Avila said that based on their initial findings, Kentex and CJC committed various labor violations such as underpayment, non remittance of Social Security System (SSS) and PhilHealth contributions of workers.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz warned employers that engaging the services of unregistered subcontractors is illegal.

“Employers owe it to our workers not to engage contractors or sub-contractors not registered with the DOLE. Sooner or later, employers will be at the receiving end of the dire consequences of their action,” she said.

Kentex representatives failed to attend yesterday the meeting called by DOLE that also included officials of CJC Manpower, SSS, PagIbig and PhilHealth.

Kentex counsel Paraiso said that the company officials did not receive any notice or invitation from the DOLE regarding the meeting, and they only heard about it through media reports.

He, however, clarified that they will cooperate with the government if there is a “proper notification” through a written invitation.

Gatchalian said the local government of Valenzuela has formed a joint audit team that will inspect the 1,675 industrial establishments in the city.

He said that the “joint audit” team is composed of the DOLE, which will be responsible on the occupational health and safety of the industrial establishments; BFP on the fire safety of the establishment; local government unit on business permits and the building officials on building structures and integrity.
Identification of victims

Chief Supt. Teresa Ann Cid, director of the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory Service, said of the 72 victims who perished in the fire, 29 victims were male and 38 were female, with the gender of five other victims not yet identified.

Three of the victims were identified as Tristan King Ong, Josephin Tee and Leah Ballesteros.

Cid said forensic experts would continue analyzing the dental records of the victims to identify all the bodies recovered and also use other methods.

She said the PNP has gathered tissue samples through mouth swab of 87 relatives of the fatalities for DNA testing.

Sr. Supt. Emmanuel Aranas, Crime Laboratory deputy director for operations, said the PNP crime laboratory started the extraction of DNA from the tissues but the process could take months.

Aranas said the cost of the DNA test is P20,000 each but the families would not be asked to pay for the test.

Malacañang urged yesterday stronger cooperation among local officials, the BFP and the DOLE so as to prevent fires similar to the Valenzuela City factory blaze.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said LGUs should have a good working relationship with labor officials.

She issued the statement after the European Union and the International Labor Organization expressed concerns over the problematic labor conditions in the country.
SSS help desk

The SSS will set up a help desk in Valenzuela City to assist victims and survivors of the fire.

Through the help desk, SSS members could claim P20,000 as funeral and death benefits either in lump sum payment or monthly pension.

Dependents could also claim funeral benefits of P20,000.

Located at the Audio Visual Room of the Valenzuela City Hall, the help desk will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Beneficiaries are advised to bring the necessary documents such as pay slips, employment contracts and valid IDs to file their SSS claims.

Employees who were injured in the fire must present their medical certificates, the SSS said.

Members of the Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) yesterday trooped to the man office of the DOLE in Manila to push for criminal prosecution against the owners of Kentex.

PM spokesman Wilson Fortaleza said the P13,000 initial assistance given by Kentex management to the families of the fire victims is not enough.

He called on DOLE to inspect factories and enforce labor laws to prevent similar disasters in the work place.

The Geneva-based United Nations Working Group on business and human rights urged governments to immediately implement measures aimed at protecting workers in factories.

Michael Addo, who currently heads the expert group, said the death of factory workers, mainly women, is a stark reminder of the urgent need for action to protect workers.

The International Labor Organization supports labor law reforms, labor inspection, workplace safety, compensation for injured workers and strengthening of inspections of working conditions in factories.

The group calls all states and businesses to take all necessary measures to prevent future business-related accidents, protect rights on freedom of association and collective bargaining, and provide for effective remedy for victims. – With Mayen Jaymalin, Delon Porcalla, Zinnia dela Peña, Pia Lee-Brago, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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