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Mourning the unnamed: Father, daughter attend entombment of unidentified Valenzuela fire victims


Working under that Friday afternoon's oppressive summer heat, workers from the Valenzuela City government prepared to bury the remains of 49 of the 72 victims of the Kentex sandal factory fire.
 
The white coffins, each of them numbered, were brought to the apartment-type tombs at the city’s public cemetery. 
 
However, this will not be the victims' final resting place. These still unidentified victims will be entombed at the apartments temporarily until they have been positively IDed by their families.

The "apartments" at Valenzuela City's public cemetery, the temporary resting place of the still unidentified Kentex fire victims until they are positively identified by their families. Photo by JESSICA BARTOLOME, GMA News
 
Amid all the goings on and away from the scampering journalists and photographers who were trying to find the perfect spot for that perfect shot, a father and his daughter stood silently.
 
Emmanuel Madiclom was watching workers seal the the tombs with cement. He glanced occasionally at the yet-to-be-buried coffins lined up on the ground, hoping against hope that his wife Marieta, 50, daughter Joanna Marie, 27, and sister-in-law Myrna Hapiso, 40, were not among those about to be laid to rest.

Though he admitted that the chances they escaped the five-hour fire were slim. “Nung makita ko 'yung lawak ng sunog, 'yung iniisip ko na tiyansa na para sila ay makaligtas, biglang nawala,” Madiclom told GMA News Online.

Emmanuel Madiclom hoped that his missing wife, daughter, and sister-in-law were not among those buried, though he admitted that the chances were slim. Photo by JESSICA BARTOLOME, GMA News
 
The fear and horror of that Wednesday afternoon, when he and the other relatives of the other factory workers could do nothing but wait for hours for the blaze to be put out, was still with him. “Hindi mo naman sila mahahanap dahil sa laki ng sunog e. At dahil sa lakas  ng apoy, hindi na kami pinayagan makalapit ng mga pulis at bumbero sa site, kaya talagang ilang oras kami naghintay sa malayo.”
 
A day after the fire, the fortunate factory workers who were able to escape broke the news to him. “Ang sabi sa ’kin ng ibang nagtatrabaho doon [sa factory], at nung ibang nakaligtas, kasama daw sila [ang aking asawa, anak, at hipag] sa mga na-trap,” Madiclom said.
 
But since the remains retrieved from the factory had yet to be identified, Madiclom said he would just like to consider his loved ones as “missing.”
 
Working conditions
 
That Friday afternoon, only three of the 72 victims had been identified, Raf Porcincula from the Valenzuela City Mayor’s Office told GMA News Online.
 
Officials from the PNP Scene of the Crime Operation (SOCO) had earlier admitted that the identification process could take months to complete.
 
“Wala kaming magagawa kundi ang maghintay. Mas mabuti na 'yung dumaan sa tamang proseso ang [forensic] examination. Mahirap naman mag-claim ka ng bangkay na hindi mo pala kaano-ano,” Madiclom said.
 
At the burial, Madiclom's young daughter, Paula, had decided to join her father.
 
And like her father, Paula would not consider her mother, sister, and aunt dead until the SOCO positively identified their remains through DNA matching. “Hangga't hindi pa nakikita 'yung mga resulta dito kung may nag-match ba o wala sa DNA samples, mas naniniwala ako na nakatakas sila at buhay sila,” Paula said.

The coffins of the unnamed Kentex fire victims were numbered by the SOCO to aid in the identification process. The victims' tombstones will bear these numbers until they are properly identified. Photo by JESSICA BARTOLOME, GMA News
 
Madiclom, meanwhile, wanted those responsible for the fire and all the deaths punished. “Ang pinakahangad namin ngayon ay makamit 'yung katarungan, 'yung talagang managot kung sino man ang dapat managot at hindi magkaroon ng cover-up sa imbestigasyon,” he explained.
 
Madiclom confirmed that, aside from the poor working environment, workers at the footwear factory were paid salaries below the minimum wage, lacked health and social benefits, and were not paid for overtime work.
 
“Pakyawan sila. Ibig sabihin, ang bayad sa kanila ay depende sa kung ilan ang matatapos nila sa isang araw,” Madiclom said.
 
His wife Marieta had worked at the Kentex factory for 15 years while his daughter Joanna was there  for 10 years.
 
Madiclom said that his wife and daughter were usually paid around P300 to P400 a day, way below the standard minimum wage of P480 per day. The working hours were also very long, usually between 9 hours to 12 hours per day.
 
“Kasi ang sabi sa 'kin ng asawa ko, kung hindi daw sila mage-extend ay sobrang liit lang ng mauuwi nila [na sweldo]. Wala silang overtime pay dahil hindi naman sila regular employees. Basta binabayaran lang sila sa bawat piraso [ng tsinelas] na matatapos nila sa isang araw,” Madiclom explained.
 
Madiclom, a construction worker, said his wife and daughter had to work at the Kentex factory for them to make ends meet for their family of seven. His missing daughter has an 11-month-old son. — DVM/KG, GMA News
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