Photos affirm painful truth for fire victims’ families

For now, it’s the closest they could get to a painful closure.

The families of the 72 workers who died in last week’s Valenzuela City factory fire were shown photos of personal belongings recovered from the May 13 inferno, enabling some of them to confirm their loss ahead of the DNA test results.

A teary-eyed Irenea Pohanes slowly raised her hand when a slide showing a watch and necklace engraved with a woman’s name was flashed on a screen. Yes, she said, they belonged to her 20-year-old niece Jerlyn Calago.

“I don’t know what to say and think when I saw them,” Pohanes later told the Inquirer on Wednesday during the gathering of the families at City Hall, where the local government also handed out additional cash assistance at P83,300 each.

The recovered personal effects were given numbers to match the tombs of the victims who were temporarily interred at Arkong Bato public cemetery shortly after the seven-hour fire that engulfed the Kentex rubber slipper factory in Barangay (village) Ugong.

The slides showed burnt watches, mobile phones, dentures and articles of clothing. Copies were also mounted on wall panels for the families to have a closer look.

However, only six families so far were able to recognize their loved ones’ belongings based on the photos.

Senior Supt. Emmanuel Aranas of the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory asked those who have yet to make a confirmation to provide authorities with dental records. Aranas earlier said DNA tests being conducted by the PNP may take up to two months.

Only three of the 72 bodies have been properly identified as they were the first to be retrieved from the factory while it was still burning.

Also on Wednesday, the families received cash assistance at P83,300 each, the amount representing contributions from the city government, the offices of Representatives Win and Wes Gatchalian, two Valenzuela business clubs and several private donors.

Last weekend, Kentex Manufacturing Inc. handed out P13,000 per family and vowed to give more later. The Buddhist volunteer organization Tzu Chi Foundation also gave cash assistance of P5,000 to P10,000 per family.

Kentex management faces investigation from several agencies for one of the country’s biggest industrial fires in recent memory, after it became apparent that the lowly paid workers were made to endure sweatshop conditions that may have turned the factory into a virtual firetrap.

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