9 convicted in case of deadly QC Manor Hotel fire in 2001
MANILA, Philippines — Four Quezon City officials and five officers of the Manor Hotel have been convicted of charges arising from a 2001 blaze that killed 75 people.
In a decision last March 29, the Sandiganbayan’s Seventh Division found former QC Building Official Alfredo Macapugay and Electrical Division chief Romeo Montallana guilty of three counts of graft for allowing the hotel to operate without the necessary permits.
The court also found that Macapugay and Montallana let Manor Hotel continue to accept guests despite a recommendation by the Bureau of Fire Protection to close the establishment for violating the National Building Code and the Fire Code of the Philippines.
They were both sentenced to imprisonment of six years and one month up to ten years for each count. They are also perpetually disqualified from holding public office.
Meanwhile, City Engineer V Romualdo Santos and Electrical Inspector Gerardo Villasenor; spouses William Genato and Rebecca Genato, who acted as hotel owner and president, respectively; hotel incorporators Marion Fernandez, Dionisio Arengino; and hotel manager Candelaria Arandor, were found guilty of two counts of graft, and will serve a sentence of six years and one month up to ten years for each count.
In its decision, the court said the actions of Macapugay and Montallana constituted three elements of graft: being a public officer, acting with partiality or negligence, and causing injury to any party.
“To the mind of the Court, by being grossly and inexcusably negligent in the discharge of their official functions, Macapugay and Montallana gave unwarranted benefit, advantage, undue preference or favor to the QC Manor Hotel,” the Court’s 121-page decision read.
“In spite of the BFP’s recommendation to close it down, the hotel continued to operate and this translates into income pouring into its coffers […] the hotel pocketed the money it should have otherwise been compelled to shell out to make alterations to the hotel structure and to acquire the necessary equipment that might have been able to save lives,” they added.
According to a certification issued by Montallana’s division which operates under Macapugay’s office, there was no record of the electrical installations done at the hotel from 1995 to 1997, and in 1999 and 2000.
“In 1999, the hotel could only be granted a provisional business permit, valid only until 30 June 1999 and conditioned upon compliance with certain requisites stated at the back portion of the permit, as well as the submission of its FSIC (Fire Safety Inspection Certificate), SP (Sanitary Permit) and by 30 June 1999,”
“The hotel did not comply with the above requisites, so it was effectively operating without a business permit during the second half of 1999 […] Worse, records show that the electrical inspection of the hotel has habitually been skipped since 1995; save for an electrical inspection in 1998 and in 2001, the year when the hotel caught fire,” they added.
Court records showed that the Manor Hotel caught fire in August 2001, leaving 75 dead and several others injured.
Aside from this case, Macapugay has also been convicted for graft stemming from the Ozone Disco fire.
The court said that the Manor Hotel disaster could have been avoided if only the hotel complied with and followed safety regulations.
“The Manor Hotel fire is yet another sobering reminder to public officials on the costly consequence of not faithfully abiding by their sworn duties and responsibilities. It was a terrible disaster that could and should have been avoided had local public officers been serious and diligent in implementing existing safety and regulatory laws such as the National Building Code,”
“Fire tragedies have repeatedly punctuated the history of highly urbanized cities. Still, these laws and rules can only accomplish as much good as the manner by which they are implemented,”
The Sandiganbayan noted that while it might be difficult to enforce regulatory laws in a big, highly-urbanized city, it should not be a reason for public officials to neglect their duty. /cbb
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