Mall owners, 27 others charged
DAVAO CITY—Authorities on Thursday filed criminal and administrative charges against 33 persons over the tragic mall fire here last year that left 38 people, mostly workers of a business process outsourcing (BPO) company, dead.
Facing criminal cases at the city prosecutor’s office were owners of New City Commercial Center (NCCC) Mall, country officials of American BPO firm Survey Sampling International (SSI) Philippines, city building and fire officials, as well as officials of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza).
“Finally, we have already filed four criminal charges against 33 individuals,” said retired police Chief Supt. Warlito Daus, executive assistant of the local government undersecretary on public safety.
Fire Supt. Anthony Figurasin, leader of the interagency task force investigating the tragedy, said charges of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide were filed against officials of LTS Malls Inc.—Lafayette Lim, chief executive officer; Helen Lim, Ivy Michelle Lim, Sharlene Faye Lim, Ivan Spencer Lim, Julie Ann Lim and Ramon del Castillo.
Also charged with the same offense were Jose Antonio San Gabriel, SSI Philippines board chair; Riza Lyn Ocampo, Rey Roble, Christopher Fanning and David Ian Weatherseed.
Officials of the mall’s contractor, AC Rockport Construction and Development Corp., were also charged—Arturo Arrojado, Carmelie Arrojado, Maria Lilibeth Olarte, Danna Patricia Arrojado, Carmen Paluga and engineer Wilson Velasquez.
Facing graft charges were former Davao City building official Joaquin Cui Jr.; Peza Mactan officials Sansaluna Pinagayo, Darlene Nazareno and Nicasio Mamites and former officials of the Bureau of Fire Protection in Davao City—Supt. Carlo Duenas, Senior Insp. Jeanny Calvario, Insp. Renerio Jimenez, Senior Fire Officer 4 Dioscoro Baja Jr., SFO2 Joel Quismundo, SFO1 Roger Dumag and SFO1 Leo Lauzon.
Calvario, Baja, Dumag, Quismundo, Lauzon and Peza officer Arvin Tero were also charged with violating the Fire Code of the Philippines.
Daus said families of the victims were informed about the filing of the case.
Figurasin said the cases were based on the task force’s “exhaustive, scientific investigation into the cause, origin and responsibility” of the Dec. 23 blaze that razed the four-story mall in downtown Davao.
“Their liability stemmed from what they did and did not do,” the task force leader said.
Figurasin said based on probers’ findings, the sprinkler systems of the mall’s third floor, and some on the fourth level—where SSI was located—were not working when the fire broke out.
“Had the sprinkler system been working, the effects of the blaze could have been mitigated,” he said.
The fire alarm system was also defective such that when the first sparks of the blaze happened on the third floor, the alarm did not ring on the upper floor, Figurasin added.
Daus cited city prosecutor Nestor Ledesma as saying that a team of up to three state lawyers would be assembled to conduct the preliminary investigation that could take up to three months.
To ensure an airtight case, officials said it took eight months before authorities could complete the investigation that led to Thursday’s filing of charges.
The failure of the Department of Justice to act immediately on the task force’s findings and recommendations, following the change of leadership in the department, also contributed to the apparent delay.
Daus said the city prosecutor vowed to resolve the cases before the disaster’s first anniversary.
At least 37 SSI employees and one mall worker died in the 32-hour inferno.
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