8-year-old boy suspect in San Juan fire, says fire officer

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MANILA, Philippines — An eight-year-old boy is now a suspect in the fire that gutted hundreds of houses in San Juan City.

The results of their investigation have not officially come out, but SFO3 Domingo Cabug, investigation head of the city’s fire department, said on Monday, that he was “almost 100 percent sure” that the eight-year-old son of one of the occupants of the house on Marne St. in Barangay St. Joseph where the fire supposedly began was responsible for the tragedy.

He said he was only waiting for the results of the national fire office’s analysis of the ashes and debris in the area to make the investigators’ findings official.

Cabug’s statements virtually exonerated a resident in the area, Michael Muñoz, who was mauled to death by some of his neighbors who suspected that he started the fire that left around 2,000 families homeless.

Police have launched a manhunt operation for the men who are believed to be responsible for his death.

Cabug said investigators had managed to get a statement from a resident, Epifania Luces, who said that the eight-year-old boy was playing with a candle in front of their house at 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 24.

Roberto Concepcion, another resident, claimed that at 1:45 a.m., he saw the boy carrying a candle as he climbed up the same house.

Minutes later, or at 2:25 a.m., the fire that reached the general alarm broke out.

According to Cabug, one of the boy’s relatives, Criselda Tolentino and Luces also told investigators that the boy had admitted to them while they were evacuating from the scene that minutes before he had lit a candle, he had propped it on a plastic container, and put it on a cabinet in the room of his cousin Jobel Meron, where firefighters said the blaze began.

“It’s simple. There was (nothing that could have ignited the fire there) but the candle since the house did not have any electricity since November,” Cabug said.

He said that they were hoping to get a statement from the boy as well but his relatives have taken him to Laguna.

Since the boy is a minor, he is exempt from any criminal liability under the law, according to the police.

FO2 Noel Binwag, investigator on case, told the Inquirer that the boy’s guardians could also not be held liable for the “accident.”

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