The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has ruled out arson in the fire that gutted the eight-story Gaisano Capital South department store and commercial building in Cebu City two days before Christmas in 2011.
An official of the DILG in Manila, who requested that he not be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media, told Cebu Daily News the findings of the fire investigation report was already signed by Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas.
The official said the final investigation report made by the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) was reviewed by the DILG Legal Service before it was sent to Roxas for approval.
The final report overturned initial findings by Cebu City arson investigators that the fire was not accidental.
The DILG source said they gave weight to an independent third party investigation that said “there was no physical or circumstantial evidence to indicate a deliberate ignition”.
When asked to make a comment, an executive of the Gaisano Capital Group, who also requested to remain anonymous, said “the report speaks for itself”.
The investigation was initially conducted by the Cebu City Fire Station, but the extent of the damage prompted the escalation of the probe to the regional level.
“For the first two days kami pa nag-handle sa investigation pero ang damage ato dako na man so ang region na ang ga-handle,” SF04 Fortunato Bucia of the Cebu City Fire Station said in an earlier interview.
He added that property damage was intially estimated at P12 million, but with the fire raging for days and eventually destroyed the entire building, damage reached P60 million.
The extent of the damage prompted the regional BFP to endorse the case to the national level.
Former Cebu City fire marshal Aderson Comar said they sent forensic samples recovered from the Gaisano fire to the BFP’s arson laboratory for examination.
“We gathered the remnants or ashes from the receiving area where the fire originated, and we sent it to the Bureau of Fire and Protection (BFP) in Manila arson laboratory for examination,” Comar said in Cebuano.
The BFP Investigation and Intelligence Division (IID) which took over the investigation said in its July 16, 2012 report that “the fire and the manner it was propagated do not correspondent to a fire with accidental cause”. The IID’s findings were affirmed by the BFP Safety and Prevention Committee under Chief Supt. Danilo Baradi.
Chief Supt. Ruben Bearis Jr., then officer-in-charge of the BFP, overturned the findings for reportedly having no direct evidence to support its conclusion.
The final DILG report said it was Bearis who “reversed the word ‘intentional in nature’ to ‘accidental in nature’.”
“Because there were no sworn statements or any witnesses or (pieces of) evidence to the contrary, then it remains an accident in nature,” the report said.
Forensic Services, a Malaysian-based private arson investigator, which was engaged by building insurer, Phil Pacific Insurance Brokers and Managers, likewise submitted its findings to the BFP.
“There was no physical or circumstantial evidence to indicate a deliberate ignition,” the report said.
In November, Crawford & Company, an independent claims management company, which was also tapped by Gaisano’s insurers, asked the BFP to clarify the conflicting investigation reports and sought a final clearance certificate on what really was the cause of the fire.
After reviewing the BFP findings vis-a-vis the report of Forensic Services, the DILG Legal Service reportedly made its own conclusion that the Gaisano fire “is most likely accidental”.
What happened before
The Gaisano Capital South fire started at 12:42 a.m on December 23, 2011 at the second floor of the eight-story building at the corner of Leon Kilat and Colon Streets in Cebu City.
The fire raged throughout Christmas and was declared out after five days.
Thick smoke and lack of breathing apparatus prevented firefighters from penetrating the building.
Former Cebu City Fire Marshal Comar said security guards initially saw smoke creeping to the ground floor receiving area.
Chinese-Filipino fire volunteers attacked the fire by breaking into the building’s west entrance while volunteers from the Emergency Response Unit Foundation (Eruf) had to destroy portions of the main gate to let the smoke out.
Gaisano Capital South had about 1,500 employees. 800 of them are casual employees, 500 were agency-hired workers and the remaining 200 were regular employees.