Mayor Gatchalian posts bail for Kentex fire raps
Valenzuela City Mayor Rexlon Gatchalian on Friday posted a P90,000 bail for his provisional liberty in connection with his charges of graft and reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and injuries for his alleged negligence over the Kentex fire tragedy.
Gatchalian posted a P90,000 bail or P30,000 bail each for his two counts of graft and one count of reckless imprudence, hours after his cases were raffled off to the Sandiganbayan Second Division.
In an interview with reporters after posting bail, Gatchalian said he found it ironic that he was charged for following a joint memorandum circular released by the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo that streamlined the grant of business permits among local government units.
“Sumusunod kami sa mga alintuntunin. Sumunod kami sa memo circular na nilabas ni Secretary Robredo noon (We followed the rules. We followed the memo circular that was released by Secretary Robredo back then). And I guess because we were following the law, we are now being sued,” Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian said the joint memorandum circular between the Department of Interior and Local Government and of the Trade and Industry sought to stamp out red tape in the grant of business permit.
Gatchalian said he considers his case also a fight for the mayors in the country who are implementing the joint memorandum circular against red tape in government.
“Itong laban na ito, hindi lang laban ko ito, kundi para sa lahat ng mga mayor sa buong bansa na ganito ang proseso. Para na rin ito sa mabilis na business permit, dahil ito ay isyu ng red tape,” Gatchalian said.
(This fight is not only ours, but it’s also for all the mayors in the country that this is the process. This is also for a faster business permit, because this is an issue of red tape.)
Gatchalian said he was willing to submit himself to the judicial process, and that he posted bail ahead of the determination of probable cause as an opportunity to air his side on the allegation.
“Sabi ko nga po, mula nung una, susunod tayo sa legal na proseso at ito ‘yung isang hakbang. ‘Yung pag-post naman natin ng bail ay hindi ibig sabihin eh hindi na tayo magpapaliwanag… Magandang oportunidad ito para magpaliwanag,” Gatchalian said.
(Like I said, from the start, we followed the legal process and this was one of the steps. Our posting for bail doesn’t mean we won’t explain… This is a great opportunity to explain.)
He said the Valenzuela City government has never shied away from its duty to assist the families of the Kentex fire victims, noting that the charges were brought by a motu proprio investigation by the Ombudsman and not from a complaint by the victims’ families.
“Ang responsibilidad ng pamahalaang lungsod ng Valenzuela sa mga pamilya, hindi namin tinalikuran. For the record, not a single family member ang naghabla… Walang complainant… Motu proprio ang ginawa ng Ombudsman,” Gatchalian said.
(We have not turned our backs to the responsibility of the city of Valenzuela to the families. For the record, not a single family member filed a lawsuit… There’s no complainant… The Ombudsman is doing a motu proprio investigation.)
He said he does not want to speculate the Ombudsman is targeting his family.
His father, mother, and siblings face graft and violations of the Manual of Regulation for Banks (MORB) over the anomalous buy-out by Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) of an insolvent bank the Gatchalian family co-owned. But his brother Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian was cleared from the charges.
“I don’t want to speculate. Sa akin, sasagutin namin ito dahil alam nating sumusunod kami sa batas (For me, we will answer this because we know we are following the law),” Gatchalian said.
The Office of the Special Prosecutor filed charges of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicides and multiple injuries punishable under the Revised Penal Code against Gatchalian, and city hall employees, Renchi May Padayao, officer in charge of the Business Permits and Licensing Office (BPLO), and Eduardo Yco Carreon, licensing officer IV of the BPLO.
Also charged with multiple homicide are the officials of the Bureau of Fire Protection in Valenzuela: Mel Jose Lagan, city fire marshall; Edgrover Oculam, fire senior inspector; and Rolando Avendan, senior fire officer.
Also charged was Ong King Guan, also known as Terence King Ong, the general manager and treasurer of the ill-fated Kentex Manufacturing Corp.
The prosecution said the accused conspired with each other in a “negligent, careless and imprudent manner” in granting a business permit to Kentex while failing to impose the prescribed sanction under Section 9 of the Revised Fire Code of the Philippines.
Gatchalian and other officials granted the business permit to Kentex thereby allowing Kentex to operate under hazardous conditions, while abandoning the necessary precautionary fire safety measures meant to protect the lives of the workers and prevent accidents.
Their actions resulted in the deaths of 74 individuals, thereby causing injury amounting to P3.7 million, the prosecution said.
Meanwhile, Gatchalian, Mecina, Padayao, Carreon and Ong were charged with violation of Section 3(e) of the anti-graft law for giving undue advantage to Kentex in the grant of business permit in 2015 despite its delinquent status and without requiring a Fire Safety Inspection Certificate.
They were also accused of failing to revoke the permit after Kentex failed to submit the requirements within the prescribed period, allowing Kentex to continue operating with inadequate fire safety measures.
The inadequate fire safety standards resulted in the deaths due to the fire that gutted the warehouse last May 13, 2015, the prosecution said.
Gatchalian, Padayao and Carreon were also charged with a second count of graft or violation of Section 3 (j) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, for conspiring with each other in approving the business permit to Kentex even though it was not qualified or entitled to such a permit because of the absence of the required Fire Safety Inspection Certificate.
President Benigno Aquino III earlier pinned the blame on the Valenzuela local government unit for granting a business permit and certificate of occupancy to Kentex despite noncompliance to safety standards and violations of the Fire Code, such as lack of an automatic fire sprinkler system and of a protected fire exit.
Aquino had vowed that charges of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide would be filed against those responsible as the Department of Justice was conducting fact-finding probe to give way to a preliminary investigation.
Of those killed, 69 died of fourth degree burns while three died of inhalation of fumes. The seven-hour fire that did not even spare the life of one of the owners’ sons raised the issue of unsafe “sweatshop” labor conditions for workers in the country. JE/rga
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