It was Angelito San Juan’s 63rd birthday when he was caught in a blast that tore through a unit at a high-end condominium where he was staying at in Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig.
It would turn out to be his last birthday.
San Juan, who was visiting from California, died Thursday at 12:20 a.m. at St. Luke’s Medical Center BGC, where he had been confined since the blast tore through unit 501-B in Two Serendra building on May 31.
San Juan suffered burns on 85 percent of his body, as well as major internal injuries. Family lawyer Raymond Fortun told reporters that San Juan died of multiple organ failure following the extensive burns he suffered.
“The doctors were waiting for his condition to stabilize because they feared his body could not bear the stress of an operation,” Fortun said.
Foreign experts to help
San Juan was the fourth person to die from the blast believed caused by a gas leak. Three appliance store employees in a passing delivery truck were crushed to death by a wall blown up after the explosion.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas expressed his condolences to the San Juan family and promised a “thorough and conclusive” investigation. He said the government had commissioned foreign experts to help in the probe.
“It’s clear that the incident was a gas explosion,” Roxas said in an e-mailed statement. “The question now is why the system failed. Was the design flawed?”
“Did the sensors and the automatic shutoff system fail? That’s why we sought the help of the experts because we cannot tell what really happened.”
‘Electricity over his body’
The blast occurred hours after San Juan arrived in the Philippines to attend the wedding of his high school classmate’s daughter.
He was lent the unit by fellow US immigrants George and Marianne Cayton, who bought the property in 2008 as their vacation home in the Philippines.
San Juan was on his way out to a birthday dinner when the explosion occurred. Despite his burns, he was able to make it to the ground floor, where his friend, Herminia Ochoa, was waiting.
Whisked off to a hospital by an ambulance, San Juan told Ochoa that as he was opening the apartment door, “there was an explosion and he felt electricity all over his body,” Fortun quoted Ochoa as saying.
Investigators had initially tagged San Juan as a “person of interest” in the case, but he was cleared of any suspicion, as the cause of the blast was traced to a gas buildup.
“From the very beginning, Mr. San Juan was a victim,” Fortun said. “The family has not made any decisions on whether they will be taking any legal steps as a result of his death.”
Serendra Inc., the developer of the Two Serendra condominium where the explosion occurred, has decided to permanently shut down the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) system piped into the residential units in the building, as well as in the adjacent One Serendra.
Ayala Land Inc., a shareholder of the company, announced the shutdown decision on Tuesday.
“It appears to be an implied admission of liability, that their gas system is unreliable. It was done even before the conclusion of the investigation,” Fortun said.
Fortun criticized Serendra Inc. for virtually “blaming the unit owners” when it said that it was shutting down the gas system because it could not “ensure the continuing compliance by individual unit owners with the required safety measures within their units.”
“I feel that that corporate statement is highly insulting to the unit owners,” Fortun said. “Ayala enticed these owners to purchase property that is expensive that most of these people purchased with hard-earned money. Now they are being blamed for failing to comply with safety measures?”
“To begin with, the obligation to take care and put up safety measures and to maintain these belong to the building management and property managers,” Fortun said.
Speed up probe
Ayala Land has been coordinating with the San Juan family regarding San Juan’s hospitalization and his funeral but has not communicated with the Caytons, Fortun said.
Also a counsel to the Caytons, Fortun said that when she was in the Philippines last month to submit documents to aid in the investigation, Marianne Cayton feared a cover-up in the case “borne out of lack of any movement in so far as an investigation is concerned.”
Fortun said he still believed the investigators were doing everything “to arrive at the truth.” He added: “The only request of the San Juan and Cayton families is just to speed it up.”
“I’d like to think it was an accident and nobody wanted this,” the lawyer said. “As to whether there is someone to blame… it’s up to investigators to determine this. We hope the investigators can put things together so proper steps can be made to determine fault and avoid similar incidents in the future.”
What caused the spark?
Fortun said the Interagency Task Force investigating the case already had “evidence as to how the leak occurred, where the blast emanated and what triggered it.”
“It was only what caused that spark that led to the blast that needs to be filled up by San Juan,” Fortun said, adding a gas explosion “can be triggered by the smallest spark,” even from mere static electricity.
San Juan’s remains were to be transferred Thursday afternoon to Evergreen Memorial Parlor in Pasig City for a two-day wake. Afterward, the body will be flown to the United States for burial.
San Juan was a data architect for a car company in the United States, where his family is also based. He left behind a wife and two children.
Investigators failed to get any statement from San Juan, who was sedated throughout his hospital confinement.
Fortun debunked the theory that the leak could have come from the unit’s gas range, saying he was informed the Department of Science and Technology had conducted tests on the intact stove.
He noted that if the gas leak came from the stove, the stove would have been “shattered,” instead of sent flying upon the explosion and landing in the garden below the building.—With a report from Marlon Ramos