Prosecutors appeal dismissal of Gatchalian’s Kentex fire raps
State prosecutors appealed the dismissal of criminal charges for graft and reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and injuries against Valenzuela City Mayor Rexlon Gatchalian for his alleged negligence in the Kentex fire tragedy.
In its motion for reconsideration, the Office of the Special Prosecutor said the Sandiganbayan Second Division “overlooked some facts and circumstances” that led the court to dismissing the charges against Gatchalian and two city hall officials: Renchi May Padayao, officer in charge of the Business Permits and Licensing Office (BPLO); and Eduardo Yco Carreon, licensing officer IV of the BPLO.
The prosecution disputed the court’s claim that Gatchalian and the two city hall officials could not be faulted for granting a business permit to Kentex because a city ordinance allows the grant of the business permit even without a Fire Safety Inspection Certificate (FSIC).
The court in its decision said Kentex is entitled to a business permit even though it had not acquired an FSIC.
The prosecution said nowhere in Ordinance No. 62 Series of 2012 does it state that Kentex may be granted a business permit without an FSIC.
The prosecution added that the wording of the ordinance is explicit that it does not dispense with the requirement of FSIC, as mandated in Republic Act 9514 or the Fire Code of the Philippines.
The prosecution said the implementing rules and regulations of the Fire Code clearly state that an FSIC is a pre-requisite for the issuance of business permits.
The prosecution also maintained that Gatchalian and the two city hall officials committed graft when they gave undue advantage to Kentex, despite its delinquent status and the absence of the required FSIC.
The prosecution disputed the court’s dismissal of the respondent’s violations of Section 3(e) and 3(j) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
On the dismissal of 3(j) because the officials were not aware of the delinquent status of Kentex, the prosecution said Gatchalian “should have or ought to have known” the delinquent status and should have acted accordingly, the prosecution said.
As to the dismissal of Section 3(e) because the city hall did not give unwarranted benefit to Kentex, the prosecution maintained that Kentex was given preference because it was granted a business permit even without the required FSIC.
“Kentex Manufacturing Corp. is engaged in the business of manufacturing, processing, and producing items made of rubber and plastic. Accused Valenzuela city officials should have exercised due diligence in the issuance of business permits, considering the highly combustible nature of Kentex’s manufacturing business,” the prosecution said.
“Kentex should have been compelled to strictly observe fire safety measures,” it added.
The prosecution said that the May 2015 fire that gutted the warehouse and took 74 lives could have been avoided had the city hall official exercised diligence in the implementation of fire safety standard laws.
The prosecution also disputed the court’s claim that Gatchalian and the other officials could not be held liable for reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and injuries.
The court held that there was no “direct causal connection” between the tragedy and the alleged acts of the city hall officials.
The prosecution said while the “immediate cause” of the fire was the welding metal sparks that ignited the chemical stockpile, it was not the “legal cause of the deaths.”
The prosecution pointed out that the Kentex workers died because they had no way of escaping from the razing fire, and that such tragedy “would not have happened had the accused not issued a business permit in a careless and imprudent manner that allowed Kentex to operate under such non-compliant conditions.”
The prosecution said the city hall allowed a “slapdash” approval of the business permits to Kentex despite the absence of the required FSIC.
“Evidently, the preference displayed by the accused in the approval of the business permits applied for by Kentex without the latter’s FSIC smacks, not only the former’s evident bad faith and manifest partiality, but also gross inexcusable negligence,” the prosecution said.
In its resolution that found no probable cause, the anti-graft court said Gatchalian and his co-accused could not be held liable for reckless imprudence because they were not directly involved in the incident that caused the fire.
The court effectively granted the motion to dismiss for lack of probable cause the charges against mayor Gatchalian, the brother of Senator Sherwin Gatchalian.
The city hall officials have been charged with reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicides and multiple injuries punishable under the Revised Penal Code; as well as violations of Section 3(e) and 3(j) of the anti-graft law.
They were charged with violating 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 the FSIC.
They were also charged with Section 3 (j) for allegedly 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 FSIC.
Of those killed, 69 died of fourth degree burns while three died of inhalation of fumes. The seven-hour fire that did not 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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