For Immediate Release
May 24, 2015
Joelle Eliza Lingat, Chairperson, Anakbayan New Jersey
Anakbayan New Jersey Stands Alongside the Victims of the Kentex Factory Fire, Demand Justice & Accountability for All Workers
Anakbayan New Jersey sends its deep condolences to the workers and victims’ families of the Kentex factory fire. We vehemently condemn Kentex Manufacturing Incorporated, the Department of Labor and Employment, and the Aquino Administration for failing to ensure the proper health and safety standards for the Kentex workers and other workers across the Philippines. As Filipinx American and immigrant youth and students, we stand alongside the workers who have paid the ultimate price for producing profit for big business.
On May 13, 2015, 72 workers were burned to death and 20 more went missing at Kentex Manufacturing Incorporated, the biggest factory fire in the Philippines. Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz alleged that the Department of Labor and Employment inspected the factory in September 18, 2014 as did the Bureau of Fire Protection. However, Kilusang Mayo Uno (May 1st Movement), among various other labor organizations found violations of standards pertaining to general labor conditions and occupational health and safety in an investigation following the fire. Most likely, these violations caused the fatal conditions seen through the lack of fire exits, mishandling of volatile chemicals, and absence of smoke and fire alarms.
The Kentex factory tragedy began years before May 13th. The fire was a mere culmination of the socioeconomic death trap that is the sweatshop industry in the Philippines and other developing nations. Although the Kentex workers have been employed for almost two decades, they did not receive a clear contract or benefits. The seasonal work paid dependent on the number of shoes produced in 12-hour days. Their wages were as little as 300 pesos ($6.74) per day in contrast to the 471 pesos ($10.57) per day minimum wage, which in U.S. terms is roughly $0.57 per hour. Workers complained of the heat and smell of the factory, but became accustomed to it because of the lack of job opportunities elsewhere. Due to the nature of the work, people suffered scratches, bruises, burns, and even loss of limbs on a regular workday. There was a lack of safety equipment and no emergency protocol in case of accidents. Survivors of the accident said that they were running to escape, but did not know where to go.
So where do the Flipinx people go? Will they continue to be pushed out of the country to find work elsewhere, like us, products of Labor Export Policy? Or will they be forced to become accustomed to the stifling heat of corruption, only to be subjected to long-term death by chemical exposure and socioeconomic exploitation or short-term death by fire?
Although the Philippines boasts that it has the world’s fastest growing economy, the Kentex factory fire illustrates the price at which it must come and begs the question: for whom? An entire family was burned to death as both parents and three children worked for Kentex, leaving behind an orphaned child in primary school. The three high school youth sought to help through a summer job at the factory, while attempting to attain socioeconomic mobility by earning their education during the school year. Their deaths were manufactured by the Philippines’ semi-colonial, semi-feudal character, built to profit the few and the imperialist plunderer.
Youth and students are the next generation of workers, farmers, and professionals, but what future are they promising us when all that faces us under this system is tragedy? When our education system has become just as much a money-making machine as our government, the youth are being funneled into exploitative low-wage, seasonal work. Everyone is being burned alive at the hands of corrupt business.
However, the responsibility cannot fall solely on employers to ensure an appropriate working environment. Business owners take after the profit-driven framework of the Philippine economy. We must demand accountability from the government that neglects to ensure the health and safety of its people. The Department of Labor and Employment and Interior Secretary, Mar Roxas, has been an advocate for big business, and not the workers. The suffering of the Filipinx working class, both at home and abroad, is directly caused by the Aquino administration and its cronies, who protect multinational corporate interests over the livelihood and wellbeing of the ordinary citizen.
This past year alone, we have witnessed countless failures by the bureaucrat capitalist and puppet administration of BS Aquino The tragedy of the Kentex factory fire is on the coattails of the Save Mary Jane campaign, which was only partially won due to the people’s international and domestic efforts. She still remains incarcerated in Indonesia. BS Aquino’s inaction is consistent with the Mamasapano tragedy, another display of his rejection of truth and accountability with the fall of 44 Special Action Forces. Jennifer Laude, the trans womxn who was brutally murdered by U.S. marine Joseph Scott Pemberton.
The Filipinx people both at home and abroad cannot afford another tragedy. There must be accountability NOW, for if we wait any longer, as we did with Jennifer Laude, the Mamasapano tragedy, and for Mary Jane, what future “errors” await our people? We cannot allow another kababayan to die under the BS Aquino administration. It is up to the power of the people to demand that he resign and demand a new system for our people! With the fumbling of Binay and the failure, especially in this case of Mar Roxas, we must seek a solution beyond the electoral game of the wealthy. We must ignite the fire within our people, as the coals have been smoldering for too long!
As youth and students, we must march alongside workers and other oppressed classes to ensure a bright future, not only for ourselves, but especially for those who toil every day. We demand that the Aquino administration resign, or be ousted by the growing people’s movement in the nation and its diaspora.
Justice for Kentex workers and other victims of Occupational Health and Safety Standards violations! End impunity of Occupational Health and Safety Violations in the Philippines! Youth and students fight alongside workers for wages, jobs, and rights! Aquino resign!