by Marc Jayson Cayabyab (The Philippine Star), May 19, 2019
MANILA, Philippines — Rosemarie Magracia remembers the last time she talked with her daughter Precilla before the tragic fire in the slippers factory Kentex four years ago.
It was Mother’s Day. Rosemarie stopped her eyes from welling up with tears as she shared with The STAR her last conversation with her daughter, about their plans to celebrate the birthday of her granddaughter. Precilla was a single mother.
Just three days later, Rosemarie’s daughter was among the 74 persons who perished in the fire that started when a welding rod sparked a pile of combustible chemicals used in the manufacture of slippers.
Precilla and the other victims failed to escape from the second floor due to the absence of fire exits.
“They should be regarded as heroes. They sacrificed their lives for their meager pay,” Rosemarie said.
She is among the eight litigants in a civil case the surviving relatives filed against the Kentex manager Terence King Ong and the fire officials for damages indemnifying the deaths of their loved ones.
There are three of them left fighting the civil case before the Valenzuela regional trial court (RTC), because the others opted to get settlement.
They are seeking at least P2 million for each of the victims’ lost earning capacity, as well as P7.5 million for moral and exemplary damages.
The others have opted to accept the settlement from the management worth P350,000, said Ahmed Rada, whose two siblings Ericson, 28, and Gerly, 16, died in the fire.
“They were bluffed by the management to just accept the money and move on,” he said.
But there is no moving on for the families since the May 13, 2015 fire, one of the worst fire tragedies that put a spotlight on the dire sweatshop conditions of the country’s manufacturing industry.
“The management wants us to forget the tragedy. It is not that easy. Every year, we relive the pain as if it was fresh,” Ahmad said.
Ombudsman prosecutors also filed a graft case before the Valenzuela RTC against Kentex and the Bureau of Fire Protection officials in Valenzuela for allowing the company to operate despite its blatant violations of the Fire Code such as the absence of a sprinkler system, fire exits and fire safety training.
Myrna Pisaw, a survivor, said she is not after any settlement money in testifying at the graft trial, which formally started September 2018, two years after the case was filed in November 2016.
“What good will the money do if the tragedy will happen again?” she said in an interview with The STAR at their house.
Myrna heard the blood-curdling cries of her workmates in the second floor while she fled the fire. She was among the fortunate ones who was outside when the fire began. She saw her workmates flailing their arms for help from the windows, which were barred with metal railings.
The windows were sealed to prevent the workers from stealing a single slipper, Ahmad said.
In their pleadings before the court, Fire Marshall Mel Jose Lagan, Senior Fire Inspector Edgrover Oculam, and Senior Fire Officer 2 Rolando Avendan denied they turned a blind eye on the violations by Kentex.
Ong blamed the BFP for not notifying them of their violations and the welders for sparking the fire that lighted the chemicals.
Ong said he was also a survivor and a victim himself, because his son and niece were killed in the fire.
The management should still be held accountable for failing to ensure the workers’ safety, the victims’ kin said.
Their fight in court is no longer about indemnfiying the deaths of their loved ones. They said it is already their quest to put in the history books that workers dared to fight for their rights.
“The Kentex tragedy is an example that for the first time in history, the workers fought for justice,” Ahmad said.