SC affirms QC exec’s dismissalBy Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Tightening the screws on command responsibility, the Supreme Court has upheld the dismissal from service of Quezon City’s electrical division chief in connection with the Aug. 18, 2001, fire at the Manor Hotel that killed 74 guests.
The Court’s Third Division affirmed the Court of Appeals’ ruling in 2007 which junked the petition of Romeo Montallana questioning the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman’s to dismiss him for gross neglect of duty.
The tribunal, in a 14-page decision penned by Justice Diosdado Peralta, rejected Montallana’s main argument that he could not be held liable based on the principle of command responsibility because he had nothing to do with the fire.
He also pointed to his subordinates as the ones who made the actual electrical inspection of the Manor hotel.
Montallana said he merely countersigned “in good faith” the notice of annual inspection of the Manor on Feb. 15, 2001, after inspectors Gerardo Villaseñor and Edgardo Merida issued the certification stating that the electrical installations and equipment at the hotel were inspected and tested by them and found to be in safe condition.
The court, however, ruled that Montallana’s duties as electrical division chief included seeing to it that “proper” annual inspections were made.
“As a public servant, [Montallana] was tasked to provide efficient, competent and proper service to the public. Public officials and employees are under obligation to perform the duties of their offices honestly, faithfully and to the best of their ability. In the case at bar, petitioner miserably failed to perform his duties as a public servant,” the Court said.
The other members of the division—Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Roberto Abad, Jose Mendoza and Bienvenido Reyes—concurred.
The justices noted the findings of the Ombudsman that the hotel was issued a certificate of electrical inspection only on its first year of operations in 1991 but was somehow able to obtain business permits for the succeeding years even without actual inspections.
The Ombudsman maintained that had a real or faithful inspection been conducted, “the electrical load and the jumper connections [in the hotel] would have been discovered and that could have prevented the incident, the proximate cause of which was the electrical overload.”
It added that the notice of annual inspection signed by Montallana did not categorically prove that an inspection was indeed conducted since there were “misrepresentations” as to the true electrical status of the hotel.
The Ombudsman found out that four electric meters at the hotel had been disconnected by Meralco due to jumper connections and that the hotel had 89 functioning air-conditioning units which could have contributed to the overloading.
The electrical division also could not even produce a copy of the approved electrical plans and specifications of the hotel.
The predawn blaze was one of the country’s most tragic hotel fires. Most of the victims were participants of a weekend Christian evangelical gathering who checked into the six-story hotel. Most suffocated to death after being trapped in rooms that had barred windows.