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DOJ OKs raps vs Valenzuela, Kentex execs over deadly fire

By: - Reporter / @JeromeAningINQ
/ 12:31 AM July 24, 2015

THE DEPARTMENT of Justice (DOJ) has recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against Valenzuela City officials led by Mayor Rex Gatchalian, executives of Kentex Manufacturing Corp. and the welding company blamed for the May 13 factory fire which left 74 people dead.

A statement released by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima yesterday said the move was based on a review and evaluation of the findings submitted by the interior department’s Inter-Agency Anti-Arson Task Force (IATF) which investigated the fire.

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Based on the DOJ recommendation, Gatchalian, Valenzuela City business permit and licensing office acting head Renchi May Padayao and licensing officer Eduardo Carreon were to be charged with violating Section 11.2.a (4) and (5) of Republic Act 9514 or the Revised Fire Code of 2008.

The other local officials, Valenzuela fire marshal Supt. Mel Jose Lagan, fire safety enforcement section head Senior Insp. Edgrover Oculam and fire safety inspector SFO2 Rolando Avendan, may be charged with violating Section 11.2a (1) and (8).

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Section 11 prohibits public officials from issuing or renewing occupancy or business permits to establishments without a fire safety inspection certificate issued by the fire chief. It also penalizes them for their unjustified failure to inspect buildings or structures at least once a year and other willful impropriety or gross negligence in the performance of their duties under the fire code.

Charges of violating Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act on top of an administrative case were also recommended against Gatchalian and the five other officials.

On the other hand, the DOJ recommended the filing of a case for reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and multiple physical injuries under Article 365 of the Revised Penal Code against Kentex operations manager Terrence King Ong, welding company Ace Shutter Corp. owner Rosalina Uy Ngo and employees Oscar Romero and Wilmer Arenal.

De Lima said that charges may also be filed against other Kentex officials such as Ong King Guan and Beato Ang, “in the event that further investigation on their management responsibilities and administrative functions reveals equal culpability on the safety of the establishment together with Terrence King Ong.”

The cases against the government officials will be referred to the Office of the Ombudsman while the ones for private individuals will be sent to the Valenzuela City Prosecutor’s Office.

At the same time, labor officials in the National Capital Region should be investigated for their possible liability after they issued a certificate of compliance last September to Kentex despite its alleged violation of the labor law and occupational safety and health standards, the DOJ said.

Sought for comment, Gatchalian told the Inquirer that he and the other city officials were ready to answer the complaint against them.

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“We know we did not commit anything illegal or unlawful. The city government acted within the parameters set forth in the DILG-Robredo circulars. Sadly, we are being punished for following the law,” he said.

Gatchalian was referring to the memorandum issued by then Interior Secretary Jessie Robredo allowing local government units to issue provisional business permits pending an inspection of the establishments concerned by fire officials.

Last month, President Aquino said that Valenzuela City officials may also be charged for allowing Kentex to operate despite its lack of a fire safety inspection certificate.

Last month, the families of some of those killed in the fire filed criminal and administrative charges against Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz and several other labor and fire officials in the Office of the Ombudsman. But they spared Gatchalian and other city officials who, according to their lawyer, had extended a lot of help to them.

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