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Iraq hotel inferno deaths bring to life Kentex fire

/ 01:44 AM February 18, 2016

The death of 14 Filipino female workers in a hotel fire in Irbil, Iraq, last Feb. 5 was, indeed, very tragic. In sympathy with the victims and their families, Communications Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III was quoted as saying over a state-run radio, “We are very sad about this. It’s a terrible way to die” (“Iraq hotel inferno kills 14 Filipinos,” Front Page, 2/7/16).

The unfortunate incident, said to have been caused by faulty electrical wiring, illustrates a disturbing truth: the compelling need for companies, whether situated here or abroad,  to fully comply with the laws and regulations on occupational health and safety to ensure the safety of their employees and clients.

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Our experience with the Kentex fire in Valenzuela last year comes afresh anew. In that shoe factory fire, over 70 workers, many of whom were women, perished.

Investigations of the tragedy by nongovernment organizations revealed that the workers were paid substandard wages, aside from the fact that they worked in a building with no viable fire exits, no fire alarms, no segregation and proper labelling of combustible materials, and no fire drills.

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What is lamentable is that, until today, the government seems unconcerned about the tragedy.  The special panel created by the Department of Justice recommended last year the filing of charges, for preliminary investigation, against several persons. But until now, almost one year after the tragedy, proceedings have yet to be conducted.

Leila de Lima has left the DOJ to run for senator in the 2016 elections. Her replacement, Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, has also resigned to assume the higher position of Supreme Court justice. Two able justice secretaries have come and gone, but justice has not come near the Kentex fire victims.

As justice for Kentex and the other fire victims remains elusive, many workers continue to toil in fire-prone environments. The question now is, will the government be vigilant and determined enough to keep them from such deadly exposures?

—REMIGIO SALADERO JR., chief legal counsel, Kilusang Mayo Uno, 33-B E. Rodriguez Sr. Avenue, Quezon City

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TAGS: Fire, Iraq, Kentex, Valenzuela City
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