The powerful explosion that ripped through an apartment in Two Serendra in Bonifacio Global City on May 31 was “most likely” caused by a gas leak, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said Friday.
In a detailed presentation of the results of an interagency investigation a week after the explosion, Roxas said the probers, including engineers and scientists, ruled out the possibility that the blast in Apartment 501B was caused by a bomb.
“The investigators are confident in saying that this explosion was not caused by a bomb, whether improvised or manufactured,” Roxas told a news conference at Camp Crame in Quezon City.
“Despite the presence of fire and signs of burning and charring, there were neither bomb components nor craters found or detected in the area. According to the experts, if the blast was [caused by] a bomb, there should be a crater, which is the seat of the explosion,” Roxas said.
“In view of all the foregoing, the blast was consistent with a gas explosion, most likely LPG (liquefied petroleum gas),” Roxas said.
Malacañang said President Aquino was “satisfied” with the results of the investigation he had ordered.
Roxas briefed Mr. Aquino on the initial results of the investigation on Thursday night, according to deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.
Mr. Aquino left for Burma Friday morning to attend the 22nd World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia.
Valte, however, said the investigation was not over.
“We will continue the thorough investigation. It’s not yet over. At this point, the investigators have given us initial findings that ruled out the possibility the explosion was caused by an explosive device, and they are in the stage where they can say it was a gas explosion,” Valte said.
Ayala to host Aquino
The investigators’ initial report was released at the same time officials of Ayala Corp., whose real estate unit Ayala Land owns Two Serendra, were reported as also attending the WEF.
Valte said she found nothing wrong with the President meeting with Ayala Corp. executives, including the conglomerate’s chair, Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, during the forum.
She noted that the Palace earlier confirmed that Ayala would host a luncheon meeting with the President during the WEF.
Ayala, she said, also hosted an event during the WEF in Davos, Switzerland, attended by the President in January.
Valte said Ayala was not part of the 57-member presidential delegation to the WEF in Burma.
“I know that he attends the World Economic Forum regularly,” she said.
Answering questions from reporters, Roxas said it was premature to say that Ayala Land could be held liable for the deaths and damage caused by the explosion.
The investigation will continue to try to determine where the gas leak had been and what triggered the explosion, Roxas said.
The blast was so powerful it sent the concrete wall of Apartment 501B flying over to the far side of the street below, smashing onto a passing delivery van.
The van’s driver and two of his crew were crushed to death.
Five other people, including a 9-year-old girl, were hurt in the incident.
“We’re not going after or singling out anyone in this investigation,” Roxas told the Inquirer after the briefing for reporters.
“The important thing is for us to know what really happened not so much for finger pointing, but to prevent similar explosions from happening in the future,” he said.
“We’re only after the truth so we can avoid this kind of incident, be it because of negligence or weakness in the construction materials. Maybe the regulations in the Building Code or the engineering requirements are not enough,” he said.
Antonino Aquino, CEO of Ayala Land, gave an assurance Friday that his company will continue to cooperate in the investigation.
“We appreciate the efforts of the government’s interagency task force in taking a thorough and scientific approach in its investigation,” Aquino said in a statement.
He said his company would ensure the structural integrity and the proper operation of facilities in Two Serendra, including the gas distribution system.
With the permission of the owners, he said, all apartments in Two Serendra will be inspected.
“At the same time, we continue to focus our efforts on the affected residents and the victims of this tragic incident,” Aquino said.
He said Ayala Land had visited and given assistance to the families of the three men who died, and seen to the medical treatment of those who were injured.
One of the injured, Angelito San Juan, the tenant of Apartment 501B, remained under intensive care in hospital, he said.
“Temporary lodgings for the displaced residents have also been arranged,” he added.
Roxas said bomb experts from the Army and the Philippine National Police (PNP) and scientists from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) did not find any bomb materials or any trace of explosives on the blast site.
Asked if the government would hold Ayala Land liable for the fatalities, he said: “We can only answer that after we have determined what really happened.”
“I don’t like to speculate. But if this was an accident, well, accidents do happen. If there’s negligence, somebody should be liable and face the consequences of their actions. For now, we cannot really say who should answer for this until we finish the investigation,” Roxas said.
Using nine bomb-sniffing dogs, he said three teams of bomb experts from the Metro Manila police, Southern Police District, and the Army separately scoured the damaged apartment for bomb residue moments after the explosion.
Nothing that would indicate a bomb was found, he said.
“There was no bomb fragment recovered and the bomb-sniffing dogs also did not detect the presence of bomb residue,” Roxas said.
“Investigators also found no bomb components like blasting caps, power supply, switch, wire, detonators and shrapnel,” he said.
Besides police investigators and experts from the DOST, the panel of probers also included officials from the Bureau of Fire Protection, National Bureau of Investigation, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Health.
Roxas said police forensic officers took 61 swabs from the rubble of the wrecked apartment and 76 swabs from the three concrete slabs that the blast had thrown onto the street.
The swabs turned out negative for bomb residue, he said.
Roxas also showed a diagram of the pipeline system that supplies LPG to all the apartments in Two Serendra.
He said meters installed in the basement of the building were used to measure the consumption of apartment owners.
While all the apartments had access to the supply of cooking gas, he said some apartment owners did not use piped-in gas from Bonifacio Gas Corp., an affiliate of Ayala Corp.
“DPWH personnel are conducting an inspection of the piped-in LPG supply and the structural integrity of the building,” Roxas said.
It was gas
Dr. Carlos Primo David, a geologist from the University of the Philippines, said the evidence gathered from the blast site and the findings of the investigators were “consistent with a gas explosion.”
For a blast to happen, he said, there should be fuel, air and ignition.
In the case of the Two Serendra explosion, he said, there was “minimal postexplosion residue, no blast catering and (presence of) instantaneously dissipated flame.”
“There was also minimal charring, powerful and widespread pressure and almost instantaneous explosion covering a large area. These are all consistent with the characteristics of a gas explosion,” David said.
Senior Supt. Conrad Capa, Southern Police District deputy chief, showed a 360-degree view of the wrecked apartment to show the extent of the damage from the explosion.
‘No longer interested’
With the findings, Roxas admitted that the authorities were “no longer interested” in considering San Juan, the tenant of the damaged apartment, a “person of interest” in the investigation.
“I did not say that he’s a suspect,” Roxas stressed, “because we never considered him a suspect. If he was not a suspect then, he’s not a suspect now.”
“At the start of the investigation, we were interested to know the circumstances of his presence in Two Serendra and why he was there,” he said.
San Juan, 63, is a green card holder who has been living in the United States for 40 years, Roxas said.
“He has no criminal record in the US,” he said, adding that San Juan’s behavior before the incident was “considered normal.”
He said San Juan was supposed to have dinner with Herminia Ochoa, a former classmate, before the explosion happened.
Ochoa is the aunt of Marianne Cayton Castillo, the registered owner of Apartment 501B, and the caretaker of the apartment.
Castillo arrived from the United States Friday morning to help in the investigation.
Minutes before the blast, Roxas said Ochoa went to see San Juan in the apartment because he failed to answer her calls to his mobile phone.
San Juan was earlier reported to have complained that he was “suffocating” in the apartment despite the air-conditioning.
He had also reported that there was no electricity in the apartment.
After opening the door for Ochoa, he said he told her he had been sleeping but he was ready to go out with her to dinner.
Ochoa said she would wait for him in her car and left.
“While Ochoa was waiting for San Juan in her car, the explosion happened,” Roxas said. With reports from Michael Lim Ubac, Jaymee T. Gamil and Miguel R. Camus
First posted 12:27 am | Saturday, June 8th, 2013