MANILA (Updated) — The death toll in a rubber slipper factory fire in Valenzuela City climbed to 72 while more than 30 people have been reported injured, a fire official said Thursday.
Bureau of Fire Protection regional director Sergio Soriano Jr. confirmed this development even as authorities are still reportedly looking for 24 missing factory workers.
The remains were placed inside body bags and were brought to Maysan Barangay Hall for processing and identification.
Philippine National Police officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina has ordered the fielding of more Scene Of the Crime Operations (SOCO) forensic examiners to also assist in identification of bodies and processing of the crime scene in coordination with BFP.
At present, there are 40 PNP SOCO personnel at the scene. The Valenzuela City police has also deployed more police personnel in the area to prevent looting and preserve evidence at the crime scene.
“The NCRPO (National Capital Region Police Office) has taken proactive moves in coordination with the city government of Valenzuela to prevent the incident from escalating into a crisis situation as a result of the mass casualties and indirect effects on affected families and residents,” said Espina.
Identifying charred remains is difficult, prompting the PNP to get swab samples from families of the victims for DNA matching.
Relatives will be allowed to look at the bodies for possible identification.
“By batch ang pagpasok sa viewing area, five families per batch,” said PNP Crime Laboratory Deputy Director for Operations Emmanuel Aranas.
Police also urged families of the victims to submit documents such as dental records and photos showing body marks to help identify their loved ones.
Espina said a task force was created to conduct investigation on the tragedy and subsequently file charges against individuals responsible for the deadly fire on Wednesday.
The Bureau of Working Conditions, the Occupational Safety and Health Center, and the Department of Labor and Employment-National Capital Region will also probe the incident as soon as fire and police authorities have concluded their mopping up operation and investigation.
"Our labor laws compliance officers are on stand-by at the factory," said Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz.
Baldoz said the Dole-NCR is still coordinating with company management with regards the latter’s financial obligations to the victims and the benefits it will provide to their families.
She also ordered Dole-NCR Director Alex Avila to review the existing collective bargaining agreement of the workers’ union and the company to determine the benefits due to the workers.
"The government is firmly determined to intensify inspection of factories to ensure strict compliance with occupational safety and health standards and prevent a repetition of the Kentex fire and similar disasters that pose grave danger to the safety and lives of Filipino workers," said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. in a statement.
Josua Mata of labor group Sentro ng Nagkakaisang Manggagawa (Sentro) suggested authorities must dig deeper into why dozens of workers were fatally trapped in the second floor of the factory building.
“The country’s occupational safety and health standards (OSHS) do not only require workplaces to be safe from hazardous and flammable substances but also must be equipped with necessary infrastructures that address emergencies like contamination, fire or explosions,” said Mata.
Initial reports said the fire was caused by welding works in the main gate of the factory.
“We need to know who authorized the person to do the welding as alleged by the witness. We will also determine if there were lapses on the safety measures done by the owner of the establishment as well as the concerned BFP officials,” said Soriano.
Janet Victoriano, one of the survivors, said Kentex has never conducted a fire drill ever since she joined the company five years ago.
She also said that the fire exit was padlocked when everyone was rushing to get out of the building.
“Kaming mga nasa first floor para kami makalabas kinailangan pa namin sirain yung kandado nung gate na dinaanan namin,” she said.
The Dole, however, has found Kentex to be compliant with general labor standards and occupational safety and health standards after a joint assessment by its labor laws compliance officers under the new Labor Laws Compliance System.
The Dole-NCR issued the company a Certificate of Compliance on September 18, 2014. It has a safety committee, with a union member representative, that implements safety rules and regulations.
Also, Baldoz said the Dole-NCR conducted a technical inspection of the company on January 30, 2014, during which the factory’s boilers used for heating have been found to be in satisfactory condition.
Kentex is a unionized establishment and its workers union, the Kentex Independent Workers Union, headed by Sally Ungod, president, has a collective bargaining agreement with management effective April 28, 2012 to April 28, 2017.
The union has 33 members out of the company’s 54 workers. It also has a sub-contractor based in Bulacan.
Apart from the factory owners, Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian said the City Government will provide financial, burial, and legal assistance to the fire victims' families.
Flags will be flown at half-mast starting on Friday as part of the citywide state of mourning declared by the Valenzuela City Council on Thursday.
It also passed an ordinance allowing Gatchalian to use public funds to aid fire victims and their families, according to an announcement posted in the City Government's official Facebook page. (Sunnex)