Court clears Gatchalian of liability in Kentex fire
The Sandiganbayan has cleared Valenzuela City Mayor Rexlon Gatchalian and two others of criminal charges in connection with the May 2015 Kentex slipper factory fire.
In a 17-page joint resolution dated Dec. 13, the antigraft court’s Second Division junked the indictment of Gatchalian for graft and reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and physical injuries, after finding a lack of probable cause to proceed to trial.
The May 13, 2015, fire led to the death of 74 individuals and the injury of many others.
The said fire raised the issue of unsafe “sweatshop” labor conditions for workers in the country.
Cleared alongside Gatchalian were Business Permits and Licensing Office officer in charge Renchi May Padayo and BPLO licensing officer Eduardo Carreon.
The said officials were accused of negligence in issuing the business permits to Kentex Manufacturing Corp., despite its delinquent status and lack of a fire safety inspection certificate (FSIC).
But, the court held that “it does not appear that accused were involved in the incident which caused the fire.”
“There is no direct causal connection between the fire and the damage incurred and the acts supposedly committed by accused. Again, the only fault attributed to accused is the issuance of the business permits without the required FSIC,” the resolution read.
The resolution noted that the accused must have taken part in the “proximate cause of an injury” to be held liable for reckless imprudence.
The court also gave weight to the three officials’ argument that they were simply abiding by the letter of Valenzuela City’s Ordinance No. 62, series of 2012, which streamlined the processing of business permits in the city.
The city officials could not be considered to have given Kentex an “unwarranted benefit, preference or advantage,” because the ordinance allowed the issuance of business permits without first requiring an FSIC.
It noted that the Sept. 11, 2015, decision of the Valenzuela City Regional Trial Court Branch 171 affirming the ordinance had already attained finality.
“Considering that Ordinance No. 62 remains to be a valid and existing ordinance, not having been void or invalid by any competent court, the accused local government unit officials were bound to implement the same,” the resolution read.
The court added that the city officials are bound to comply with the regulations and “cannot refuse to perform this duty and exercise discretion on whether or not the procedure would be applied.”
It said that under the ordinance, Kentex “was issued the business permits because it was qualified and legally entitled to it under the city ordinance of Valenzuela.”
Still facing graft and reckless imprudence charges were three BFP officials: city fire marshal Mel Jose Lagan, senior fire inspector Edgrover Oculam and senior fire officer Rolando Avendan.
Kentex general manager and treasurer Ong King Guan, also known as Terence King Ong, also faces reckless imprudence charges.
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