Gatchalian: I will not be fired; TRO on dismissal prevents chilling effect on mayors
MANILA, Philippines — Valenzuela City Mayor Rexlon Gatchalian is still fighting the Office of the Ombudsman’s dismissal order against him and six other officials in relation to the Kentex Manufacturing slipper factory fire that killed at least 74 people in Barangay Ugong, Valenzuela, in May 2015.
On Friday, the Court of Appeals granted Gatchalian a temporary restraining order that prevented the Department of Interior and Local Government from serving the dismissal order, which was approved last month.
“There is no scene that I will step down or be brought out from the Mayor’s office,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a telephone interview Sunday. “We did not violate any law in issuing provisional business permits for the factories, he added.
Gatchalian, in a message sent to the INQUIRER, said, “the TRO is important because without it, there will be a chilling effect on city mayors of highly urbanized cities as we all exercise the same procedures imposed by the Department of Interior Local Government memorandum of Secretary (Jesse) Robredo.” (Robredo died in a plane crash on Aug. 18, 2012.)
According to Gatchalian, a Bureau of Fire Protection record shows only around 15 percent of around 300,000 establishments in the National Capital region have Fire Safety Inspection Certificate (FSIC). “Do they want these establishments to all close down?”
A resolution approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales last Feb 17 stated that the Ombudsman gathered “substantial evidence” and found Gatchalian and six city officials respondents “guilty of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty and charged with a penalty of dismissal from the service.” The other six city officials who were fired by the Ombudsman over the Kentex fire were City Fire Superintendent Jose Mel Lagan, Senior Inspector Edgrover Oculam, fire officers Roland Avedan and Ramon Maderazo, Licensing Officer IV Eduardo Carreon and Business Permit and Licensing office’s officer-in-charge Renchie May Padayao.
The Ombudsman also indicted the City Mayor, Padayao, Carreon, Lagan, Oculam, Avendan and Ong King Guan, Kentex’s operation manager, for “reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicides and multiple physical injuries under article 365 of the Revised Penal Code.”
Gatchalian, who received the order only Wednesday, was also charged together with Padayao and Carreon for issuing a business permit to Kentex Manufacturing Corporation in 2014 despite “not being qualified or entitled” or having no FSIC from the BFP.
The three and Ong were also charged for issuing another business permit in 2015 despite the slipper factory’s delinquent status.
Meanwhile, Lagan, Oculam, Maderazo, Avendan and Ong were charged for violation of RA 3019 for issuing a Fire Safety Inspection Certificate to Kentex Manufacturing in 2012; and inaccurate inspection reports and Notice to Comply in 2014. Also, Lagan, Oculam, Avendan and Ong were also indicted for their failure to impose sanctions in accordance with the Fire Code.
Lawyer Remigio Saladero Jr., counsel for the Kentex worker victims, who spoke to the INQUIRER on Sunday, said they have not received a copy of the TRO and the dismissal charges against Gatchalian.
“My clients did not include Gatchalian in our complaint because of the ‘huge’ help they received from Gatchalian and the local government. We respect the decision of the Ombudsman, though, and it’s up to the legal counsel of the Mayor to come up with legal remedies,” Saladero said, saying that some of his clients looked at the order as ‘politically motivated.’
Saladero said his clients believed that Gatchalian approved in good faith the “provisional business permits” in accordance with the national government’s one stop shop policy—later adopted by the DILG. The permits could have been revoked anytime had the Bureau of Fire Protection reported violations. The BFP did not submit any report, he said.
Saladero added officials of the Department of Labor and Employment should also be charged since they issued occupational safety health standards to the Kentex workers.
Charlyn Faith Yamido, a former coordinator for the Justice for Kentex Workers Victims who lost a mother in the fire, said prosecuting the owners of Kentex Manufacturing would constitute real justice for them.
To date, the victims had claimed compensation from the DOLE who paid the victims P130,000 each, she said. There was no resolution yet from the Department of Justice, she added. “That’s what we are all waiting for.”
Edgar Icuspit, 29, who lost his 33-year-old wife in the fire, said he felt sorry for Gatchalian whom he believed was just doing his job. Gatchalian, he said, hired him at the City Hall after the fire.
“Those who violated the law should face the consequences of the law, not those who just followed it,” said 29-year-old Edgar Icuspit in defense of Gatchalian. SFM
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.