MANILA - The 72 dead workers of Kentex Manufacturing Corp. could have survived the fire that hit the slipper factory on May 13 if fire alarm systems were installed, a task force looking into the tragedy said yesterday.
Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) spokesperson Renato Marcial, who led the Inter-Agency Task Force walk-through Saturday morning said the production and office areas of the factory were not equipped with alarms that could have warned the workers.
As it appeared, the workers were only alerted when “a supervisor” shouted about the fire to the production and assembly sections where most of the workers were trapped, he said.
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Archbishop Socrates Villegas also called on the priests and the laity yesterday to act as guardians of modern-day slavery and prevent the poor from being exploited in their places of work.
The “reports have uncovered other sites of exploitation where Filipinos are worked to death under the most appalling of circumstances. We, therefore, ask our parish priests and our laity to constitute themselves into guardians of our brothers and sisters against modern-day slavery,” Archbishop Villegas posted on his Facebook account.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz meanwhile ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Center (OSHC) and the Employees Compensation Commission (ECC) to open hotlines or helpdesks to raise awareness and understanding of workplace safety and health among workers.
“We need to inform, educate, and accustom our workers and employers, as well as the general public, on occupational safety and health, so they can be aware and vigilant,” Baldoz said.
In the walk-through, Marcial noted the absence of an alarm system which could have efficiently warned workers of dangers instead of a shouting supervisor, who may not even have been heard during the commotion.
He also noted that the workers died from the fire and toxic fumes after they were trapped on the second floor of the factory.
The IATF found some welding rods and slags on the scene and determined that almost 400 sacks of “blowing agents” were piled near where the welders were working.
Blowing agents are chemicals used to expand the rubber in making slippers. These have characteristics that can easily cause ignition although the IATF has yet to determine their chemical content.
The IATF walk-through also established that the fire started on the ground floor of the finishing section, where the welders were repairing the roll-up door.
The walk-through aims to “visualize” the condition of the establishment before, during and after the fire incident happened.
Archbishop Socrates said the Kentex tragedy roused the nation to the reality of modern-day slavery in the country.
In his Facebook post, Villegas said journalists’ reports have uncovered other sites of exploitation where Filipinos “are worked to death under the most appalling of circumstances.”
Villegas, who also heads the archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan, added that the sweatshops should be subject to relentless inspection and monitoring and that these should be closed when found and proven to be a site for exploitation.
“There is hardly anything more repugnant to the Gospel’s law of love than the heartless exploitation of the poor and to make capital from their want,” he said.
Baldoz called on workers and concerned citizens to report to DOLE risky and unsafe conditions at the workplace, including all malpractices.
“The public can help us in our campaign to foster safe and healthy workplaces by reporting to us all risky, dangerous, and unsafe working conditions and practices so we can take fast action,” she said.
Baldoz added that DOLE will verify even tips from anonymous sources although she warned pranksters from abusing this arrangement.
She also ordered OSHC to reactivate its Safety Patrol Program, formed in 2012, and to expand its scope and coverage from construction sites to include other hazardous occupation and industries.
Meanwhile, Marcial said the Valenzuela City building officials have ordered the Kentex building demolished, a process that will only take place two weeks after the investigation and after the building owners comply with the conditions set by the government.
He added that the walk-through stage has been completed and that he would submit a report to Interior Secretary Mar Roxas for action. –Evelyn Macairan, Eva Visperas, Mayen Jaymalin
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