First published in the author's column in Philippine Star












Corruption had been in the headlines lately, but people are not connecting the dots. Corruption is a way of life in this country and the bulk of our electorate are no longer shocked. Now we have in that Valenzuela factory fire a clear example of how corruption kills.


Print and broadcast media should have carried really gory pictures of those charred bodies of victims in that Valenzuela factory fire. We need to shock people so they will get angry enough to realize all those lives were lost because of corruption.


It is pretty obvious from a week’s worth of television news reports that two government agencies are responsible for that horrible carnage: the Bureau of Fire Protection under the DILG and the Department of Labor. The LGU insists they are only responsible for the integrity of the building. The BFP is supposed to ensure compliance to the Fire Code.


That big factory had very obvious Fire Code violations, notably the lack of fire exits. Now they are saying the factory had no fire inspection clearance. How can the local BFP miss a factory that big all these years? I know of small businesses with complete inspection certificates that are still regularly inspected by BFP personnel, who also incidentally insist the  owners buy their fire extinguishers from them. 


And this is not the first time lives were lost in a serious factory fire. My colleague, Jake Maderazo wrote in his column in a tabloid that on May 9, 2012, 17 workers of a jeans and shorts factory in Butuan City died in a fire. On April 30, 2014, eight women workers also died in a fire at an “electronics sweatshop” in Pasay City with locked exits.


At least 72 workers died in that Valenzuela factory that makes slippers. The Valenzuela LGU must explain why the factory got a provisional mayor’s permit without a fire inspection certificate. In addition, that Valenzuela factory had apparently also violated the Labor Code.


One wonders how that Valenzuela factory was given a “Certificate of Compliance” by DOLE-NCR in September last year. That certification says the factory was compliant with General Labor Standards and Occupational Safety and Health standards. A technical inspection last year also certified compliance with labor laws.


How come the Labor Secretary is now saying the factory also violated labor laws and standards? Survivors of the fire also told media interviewers that the factory used an illegal contractor for labor supply (“pakyaw”) and they were paid less than the required daily minimum wage.


Survivors claim they were given five month contracts. They had to work 12 hours in a poorly ventilated factory where they inhale poisonous fumes from chemical raw materials. Many of the workers did not even have a piece of paper that says they are working for the factory, not even a pay slip. Some have been casual employees for years, even decades.


It is easy to conclude that both BFP and DOLE officials who had anything to do with granting that factory the necessary permits messed up big time. The deadly consequence of their failure to implement the law can be seen in that grisly pile of bodies burned beyond recognition.


Perhaps the BFP and DOLE inspectors were incompetent, but it should be easy to assume they were also corrupt. In fact, it is likely they were more corrupt than anything else. Heads must roll starting from their immediate superiors and those who run the regional offices of the two government bureaucracies.


Ganyan kasi sa gobyerno. There are other instances when corruption killed many innocent victims. Coast Guard officials used to routinely allow substandard and overloaded vessels to sail. But there had been too many accidents and hundreds of lives lost with every accident at sea. Now, it seems the Coast Guard is stricter.


Safety rule violations are also common in the construction industry and accidents that kill workers happen a little too often. It is also easy to assume that many buildings that have been certified for occupancy have Building Code violations that compromise public safety. The Ozone tragedy comes to mind. If that West Valley fault mega earthquake happens, thousands will die as substandard buildings collapse.


At a time when the poor are nonchalant about the evils of corruption, it is necessary to shock everyone about corruption’s deadly potential. Perhaps, as every voter realizes the danger to life and limb that corruption poses, we may get everyone to vote corrupt officials out. The masa must realize that candidates are not all the same (pare-pareho lang). Voting for the charming corrupt candidate who grants them a favor can prove deadly to them.


It is important to show the masa that corruption is particularly lethal to them. Corrupt public officials work with profit-hungry employers to disregard existing laws that protect their basic rights and well-being as workers as what happened in Valenzuela.


It is almost certain that the immoral and illegal activities of that slipper factory are actually widespread in Valenzuela and elsewhere. We need to agree that worker safety is non-negotiable and the lives of our marginalized workers are not disposable.


For all of those who advocate good governance as an election issue but only talk among themselves, expand your campaign to include our marginalized workers. Make them realize corruption keeps them poor and even kills them as if they are rats.


A good poster to drive home the message should feature the shocking photo of the charred victims of the Valenzuela fire with these stark headlines: Corruption kills. Get your revenge on election day!




VP Jojo Binay warns that the country cannot afford to elect an inexperienced President into office in 2016, given the number of serious problems we are facing. That is true, but based on our history, experienced Presidents also gave us a bad experience.


This experience versus inexperience conundrum haS been with us almost every election I can remember. Marcos said the same thing about Tita Cory. Marcos said she was just a housewife, while he was experienced.


In the election that pitted Erap against Joe de Venecia, they were both experienced, but that’s one election we didn’t have a good choice at all, not even a lesser evil. I voted for Raul Roco out of protest, despite knowing he didn’t have a chance.


Ate Glue ridiculed Fernando Poe Jr as inexperienced too. We all know where Ate Glue’s experience brought us.


Noy was inexperienced, but we took the chance that having an honest President for a change would be good for the country. Of course we didn’t think of the “experienced” politicians he brought to power with him among the Liberals and his kabarkadas. We ended up having the worse of both worlds: an inexperienced President whose honesty is being almost negated by the experienced people around him.


Now Jojo B, in obvious reference to Grace Poe, is saying we need his experience and shouldn’t risk the inexperience of Grace. Jojo was suggesting that we ought to have learned by now from the inexperienced mother and son we elected for honesty.


But lately, Jojo is starting to remind us of Marcos and his billions. The revelations of the AMLC investigation of billions moved to Canadian banks were shockingly Marcosian. Now, the VP’s experience doesn’t seem too compelling or may even be dangerous.


Grace seems interesting, but she is still by her lonesome right now. She is not as experienced, but she isn’t inexperienced in management the way P-Noy was and she seems to have a better work ethic. But we don’t know the people who will help her govern the country if she is elected. I am guessing that neither does she, just yet.


Of course, if I had my rathers, I would rather that I was being asked to choose among such experienced leaders with positive track records as public officials like Dick Gordon, Joey Salceda and Serge Osmena. Or Tony Meloto, a non-politician with the heart for the poor and the track record of doing something solid to uplift their condition, even as a private citizen. But none of those gentlemen seem electable with our current system.


It is now a choice again between black and white… between good and evil. We are once again being asked to suspend doubt and just hope honesty and relative inexperience would be better than electing an experienced candidate with questionable integrity


Unless Jojo B is able to adequately explain his finances beyond a general all-purpose denial, his campaign line that proved so effective in 2010 may become a dangerous double edged sword: Ganito ang nagawa namin sa Makati. Sana sa buong bayan din.


Naku po! Makati pa lang yan bilyon bilyon na. Imagine kung buong bayan na!


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