The helpless sight of fire engulfing the House Technology Industries (HTI) complex in the province of Cavite added to the number of worst workplaces disasters in the Philippines, joining the tragic Kentex factory fire in Valenzuela in 2015 to the list.
Two years ago, the shocking blaze in the Kentex slipper factory, where iron grills were built over the windows, trapped around 200 to 300 and claimed the lives of 72 workers.
In an eerily similar situation, in February 1, 2017, no more less than a hundred HTI workers were caught by fire, scorching their bodies from head to toe. Despite the large figure of injured, a number of workers were left unaccounted hours after the incident.
Two days after the tragic HTI fire, Justice for Kentex Workers Alliance joined the national day of protest of workers against Duterte administration to highlight the unaddressed issue of inhumane and hazardous workplaces across the Philippines, citing HTI as the most recent example.
Workers decried the unfulfilled promise of ending all forms of contractualization, enduring situations that only become public knowledge in times of tragedies like the HTI and Kentex fire. The fire in Kentex caused the workers’ situation of being paid an average of P200 to P300 in a 12-hour day work and without overtime pay, SSS, Philhealth and other benefits to be revealed. Meanwhile, 5,000 contractual workers out of 13,000 employees in HTI received only an average of P 200 in a 8-hour day work. Accidents to workers in these situations was also a double whammy, where they are not paid while there is no work or while they are injured and they have to undergo medication when they do not have medical benefits, said members of the Justice for Kentex Workers Alliance.
A fire victim to another fire victim
With the recent tragedy in the HTI factory fire, Justice for Kentex Workers Alliance asserted that the fight to end dangerous and grave working conditions must continue.
According to the Bureau of Fire Protection Chief Bobby Baruelo, HTI was also caught ablaze last 2012. This is not the first time that HTI workers suffered working in hazardous factories.
As mandated by the law, clearances, however, must be sought from official of Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) before institutions can enter for further investigations. Even the local government units are limited from interfering with the fire situation.
For Ammied Rada, the president of the Justice for Kentex Workers Alliance, this tragedy that HTI workers have suffered will only continue if they let injustice persist and to let those who are accountable get away with their crimes and offenses.
“Ang pangyayari sa loob ng Kentex ang nagmulat sa akin […] Akala ko hindi ito mangyayari sa pamilya ko. Kaya huwag na nating antayin na mangyari pa ito tulad sa HTI. [The tragedy that happened inside the Kentex factory enlightened me. I thought it this tragedy will not happen to my family. We should not wait for this to happen to factories like HTI],” said Rada.
More than a year after the Kentex fire
Where most residents in Valenzuela live by being laborers in the rows of sweatshop factories in the city, Rada was a worker in Kentex slipper factory before he transferred to another factory when fire reduced Kentex into ashes.
But three of Rada’s siblings were the among those who were trapped workers inside the blazing slipper factory. Only one of his siblings survived the fire.
“Ito ang mahirap. Walang pa rin kaming hustisya at ang bagal, ang sobrang bagal ng kaso [This is what’s difficult. We have yet to attain justice and our case is very slow-paced],” Rada lamented.
More than a year after the factory fire, there is no significant development to the criminal charges filed by kin of victims and survivors of the factory fire against owners Ong King Guan and Beato Ang. Kin and survivors argued that the owners could have prevented the tragedy by securing the factory’s occupation health and safety (OHS) standards.
Workers must fight
With a hundred and more are workers burned by the factory fire, many were rushed to the hospitals. The kin of other victims waited outside the restricted factory complex to know the updates on their mothers, fathers, children and grandchildren who worked in the burned factory.
“Hindi po natin ito madadaan lamang sa luha. Nandiyan na at nangyari na. Dapat matuto dahil hindi lang sa Kentex, hindi lang sa HTI ang pangyayaring ito, kung ito ay pabayaan natin, bilang isang biktima, bilang isang manggagawa [We cannot resolve this through tears. It’s there. It happened. As fellow victims and workers, we should learn from this tragedy because it will not only happen in Kentex and HTI if we let this pass],” Rada imparted.
After the Kentex fire, Rada has been joining the local and regional protests of workers’ groups. He soon became a familiar face in the protests that even call issues apart from Kentex factory fire. He supports the call to end contractualization and to implement national minimum wage for all Filipino workers.
“Sana balang araw makakasama ko sila rito na nagpapahayag ng mga damdamin nila. Ihayag nila ang katotohanan. Dahil alam ko pare-parehong pinagsasamantalahan ng mga kapitalista kaming mga manggagawa [I hope that one day I would see them [HTI fire victims] here to speak what they feel and to speak of the truth. Because I know we, workers, share similar experiences of exploitation from capitalists],”said Rada.
Rada said that workers should not be satisfied with just silently working and earning one’s keep, but workers have to push for improvements of their wage and working conditions.
“Kailangan lumaban lang. Hindi natin makakamtan ang hustisiya hangga’t hindi lumalaban [We need to fight. We cannot attain justice if we will not fight].”