Article by: Dan Jachim
Photographs Compiled by: Ji Young Kim
In the 1919 Schenck vs. United States case, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously proclaimed, “You can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” due to the sheer panic that a raging flame produces. Sadly, this frightening concept was the reality for workers of the Kentex Manufacturing Corp. factory in Valenzuela City on May 13. The fire seared its presence into countless of lives, leaving over 70 dead, hundreds injured, and, to paraphrase Erich Maria Remarque, several others who, though they may have escaped its flames, were destroyed by the fire. The dead demand respect, the injured demand compensation, and those left behind demand justice.
While many things were razed, questions have been raised. Who is to blame? How could this happen? What will happen now? Some of these are easy to answer; others, not so much. With regards to the blame, the factory managers seem to be an easy pick. Investigation reveals that many of the victims tried to escape through the upper windows, but said windows were barred shut to prevent people from entering and leaving. Additional evidence suggests that the amount of people working in the factory far exceeded the allowed number. However, the allocation of blame is also open to interpretation. To what extent should the welders, who physically started the fire through their unsafe welding, be held responsible? Such a question cannot truly be answered and may never be.
Another pressing concern is the need for justice. During the wake, Kentex announced that they would provide the families of the victims compensation: 15 days’ worth of salary – not the most generous sum. Luckily, because of the gross exploitation, others have stepped in. Rex Gatchalian, mayor of Valenzuela City, announced that the city will give at least Php30,000 to the affected families. Additionally, the Arson Task Force announced a thorough investigation of the fire in order to determine what went wrong and where the blame should fall.
There is no bringing back those who have died. Nothing will return fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters to the family. However, something might happen that very few expected: justice. Those responsible will be brought to judgement, those left behind will be able to move on, and those who died will be remembered with dignity. In a country plagued with corruption, scandal, and injustice, such an outcome is the beacon of hope amidst a sea of despair. Now all that must be done is to follow it.