Valenzuela factory welders weren't Kentex employees

MANILA, Philippines – The welders working on a project that supposedly set ablaze a rubber slipper factory in Valenzuela City weren’t even employees of Kentex Manufacturing Corporation, investigators have discovered.

In an initial report on the probe, a copy of which was obtained by by Rappler, investigators – a mix of police from the Northern Police District (NPD) and the National Capital Region’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (NCR CIDG) – said that at least two of the welders were employees of Ace Shutters Corporation, a company based in Quezon City.

The 3 – two welders and a driver – from the company, have since been interviewed by police about the incident. (READ: Valenzuela fire death trap highlights sweatshop abuses)

At least one of the welders, fearing his security, has since been placed under the protective custody of the CIDG NCR, NPD spokesman Superintendent Ariel Fulo said Monday, May 18.

No “specific” threat has been made against the welder, however, Fulo added.

The fire, which set ablaze Kentex’s factory in Valenzuela City, claimed the lives of at least 72 employees. So far, only 3 of the victims have been identified, with the rest burnt “beyond recognition.” (READ: DNA tests for Valenzuela fire victims to take 'several months')

It’s among the worst fire-related tragedies in Valenzuela and has since put into the spotlight the implementation of the country’s labor laws

According to initial reports, it was the welding activity that started the fire – sparks set ablaze flammable chemicals which were stored near where welders were working. (READ: Palace: More inspections after Kentex fire)

Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II previously said Kentex employs at least 3 types of workers: those who are employed by the company itself, those hired through other companies, and locals who are hired for short-term projects, typically without documentation.

More than 20 affidavits have been collected by police, who will in turn be submitting their findings to the Bureau of Fire Protection, which takes the lead in the probe. Investigators will juxtapose the accounts of the survivors against evidence collected from the scene, Fulo said.

Who’s to blame?

The narrative of the welders, as well as the circumstances surrounding their hiring and the welding project itself, will be crucial to the investigation, according to sources.

Roxas, in a chance interview with reporters last week, said one of the key questions investigators will need to answer include why welding was allowed in an area so close to flammable chemicals.

It was the chemical – identified as a “super seal powder” in initial police reports – that started the fire and eventually made it difficult for firemen to put it out.

Police have so far confirmed that Ace Shutters was hired by Kentex for the welding job.

The supervisor in charge of the Ace Shutters hires, however, was among those who perished during the fire.

Police also need to determine why most of the fire victims were found – and supposedly, trapped – on the second floor.

According to one of the factory supervisors interviewed by police, they first saw fire coming from the main door of the second floor. Then came fire and, eventually, a “loud explosion.”

The supervisor, a Kentex employee for over a decade, said he only survived the fire because he jumped from the main door of the second floor into the first floor roofing.

At least 4 other survivors also jumped from the second floor, before the roof itself collapsed.

Other survivors said all 3 doors in the factory’s “assembly department” had stairs leading to the ground floor, where the fire began. The supervisor, however, said there were no fire exits located on the second floor. – Rappler.com