Gatchalian seeks dismissal of Kentex fire raps
Valenzuela City mayor Rexlon Gatchalian has asked the Sandiganbayan to dismiss for lack of probable cause his criminal charges of graft and reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and injuries for his alleged negligence over the Kentex fire tragedy.
Gatchalian filed a motion for judicial determination of probable cause before the anti-graft court Second Division asking the court to throw out the case and not issue an arrest warrant against him.
In his motion, Gatchalian said the Office of the Special Prosecutor under the Ombudsman erred in filing a reckless imprudence case against him for the grant of business permit to Kentex, the slippers factory that was gutted in a fire last May 2015.
Gatchalian said the inter-agency task force that investigated the incident has determined that the cause of the fire was the “molten slags from the welding rod” of workers welding in the factory that came into contact with combustible sacks of chemicals used for manufacturing slippers.
Gatchalian said it was not he who was negligent but the welders who accidentally ignited the chemicals.
“There is no showing that the issuance of the business permits to Kentex… was the proximate cause of the fire which caused the death and injury to Kentex workers,” his motion read.
“With due respect, the Office of the Ombudsman is gravely mistaken in forcibly indicting the accused for the crime of Reckless Imprudence… Attributing the fire to the accused unduly stretches the limit of the principle of proximate cause in determining criminal liability,” the motion added.
Gatchalian also refuted the Ombudsman’s allegation he was liable for graft for giving undue preference to Kentex in the grant of permit even though it was not qualified.
Gatchalian said he was only fulfilling his duties as mayor in enforcing ordinances that aim to eliminate red tape in government by the speedy issuance of business permits.
He said as mayor it was not he nor the Business Permits and Licensing Office, but the Bureau of Fire Protection that was mandated to check if Kentex violated the Fire Code of the Philippines.
“Accused merely enforced the procedure provided by the Administrative Issuances and Ordinance No. 22 in issuing the business permits to Kentex. There is no showing that Accused treated Kentex any differently from the thousands of other applicants of business permits in Valenzuela City,” his motion read.
Gatchalian added that the policy in Valenzuela City in the grant of business permit was also being implemented in other local government units.
He added that it is the current policy of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to stamp out red tape in government.
“The present administration validated the procedure implemented by Valenzuela City in issuing business permits… The settled national policy of streamlining the issuance of business permits has been given more importance by the [present] administration under President Rodrigo R. Duterte,” his motion read.
Gatchalian filed the motion after his case was raffled off to the anti-graft court Second Division. He has also posted a P90,000 bail.
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; as well as Ong King Guan, 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.
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. CDG