Kentex offers fire victims 'negligible' compensation

MANILA, Philippines – Valenzuela City mayor Rex Gatchalian hit the monetary compensation offered by a footwear company to the relatives of the 72 workers killed in the May 13 blaze. He said the amount was "negligible" compared to the suffering the families went through.

Two days after a fire gutted the two-storey building of Kentex Manufacturing Corporation, the factory's lawyer told survivors and families of the victims that they would be given money – the due salary on the 15th of the month plus a few days' work and overtime – on May 16, "just to tide them over."

But Gatchalian said he was "extremely disappointed" with the compensation offer, adding that the amount was "negligible compared to what the families lost and went through."

"Though no monetary amount can equal the lives lost, Kentex should have considered values that will help the families get back on their feet. These families lost breadwinners, and it's sad that Kentex is giving them once again the shorter side of the stick," the mayor said on Friday, May 15.

He added, "This goes to show what type of employer Kentex is and how they treat their employees."

On May 14, rescue workers pulled out 72 bodies from the site of the tragedy, believed to have been caused after a welding activity sparked nearby flammable chemicals also stored within the compound.

The bodies were temporarily buried in Arkong Bato public cemetery, while forensic investigators conducted DNA tests to identify the victims, most of whom had been burnt beyond recognition.

Police are also conducting their investigations to determine who should be held liable for the incident. (READ: We’ll make culprits pay for Valenzuela deaths – Roxas)

Earlier, both the local city fire bureau and the labor department said Kentex Manufacturing Corporation had passed fire safety inspections and occupational safety checks.

But on Friday, labor secretary Rosalinda Baldoz called the factory's owners "immoral" for allegedly exploiting their workers and breaking employment laws.

“They are not only illegal, they are immoral. This employer, they don't have a sense of social responsibility," Baldoz said. 

The workers, who produced cheap sandals and slippers for the domestic market, were paid well below the minimum wage of P481 ($10.90) a day and were denied a host of legally mandated benefits, survivors of the blaze and victims' relatives told Agence France-Presse.

According to other media reports, workers were paid only P202 a day. 

In a meeting with the families of the victims, Kentex lawyer Renato Paraiso asked for patience in the disbursement of other benefits due to the families under the law.

Paraiso explained that the company's administrative and accounting employees also died in the fire, and the company's records destroyed.

"Just give us a chance. We will provide all your benefits as provided under the law," he said. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com