Sandigan affirms dismissal of Kentex fire case vs Gatchalian
MANILA — The Sandiganbayan has affirmed its dismissal of the graft and reckless imprudence charges against Valenzuela City Mayor Rexlon Gatchalian and two others in connection with the May 2015 Kentex slipper factory fire.
In an eight-page resolution dated June 8, the court’s Second Division denied the Office of the Ombudsman’s appeal on the Dec. 13 resolution of the Sandiganbayan finding no probable cause for Gatchalian’s indictment.
Also cleared anew were Business Permits and Licensing Office Officer-in-Charge Renchi May Padayao and Licensing Officer Eduardo Carreon.
The court said the prosecution’s Jan. 3 motion for reconsideration merely rehashed their original arguments that have already been passed upon in the earlier ruling.
It maintained the city officials should not be faulted for issuing business permits to Kentex Manufacturing Corp. without requiring first a fire safety inspection certificate (FSIC).
This was allowed by the City Ordinance No. 62, which the Sandiganbayan noted was deemed valid by the Valenzuela City Regional Trial Court Branch 171.
“The records do not show that the accused acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence. The accused merely followed the existing memorandum circulars and ordinances on the streamlined procedure for the issuance of business permits,” the resolution read.
Other pertinent rules include Joint Memorandum Circular No. 1, which allowed local government units to issue “temporary” permits pending compliance with other requirements, and the Bureau of Fire Protection Operational Procedures Manual, which provides for permit applications to be forwarded for fire safety inspections “only after the business permits are issued.”
The anti-graft court added that the BFP officials and not the city officials were the ones primarily tasked to implement the provisions of the Fire Code.
“Therefore, it is the BFP, not the accused, who is primarily responsible for the implementation of the FSIC (fire safety inspection certificate) and has the obligation to inform the Local Government Unit officials of the compliance or any violation of the establishments,” the resolution noted.
It pointed out that without any adverse notice from the BFP, the city’s BPLO would have “no basis to cancel or withdraw the [business] permit already issued.”
The court also reiterated that a reckless imprudence case would not prosper because the issuance of the business permit was not the “proximate cause” of the fire. It pointed again to the welding repairs that sparked nearby combustible chemicals as the direct cause of the disaster.
Graft and reckless imprudence charges are still pending against city fire marshall Mel Jose Lagan and senior fire inspector Edgrover Oculam. But in February, they asked the court to drop the charges against them because they hold a salary grade of 25, putting them outside the Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction over officials with salary grade of 27 and above.
The May 13, 2015 fire led to the deaths of 74 individuals and the injury of many others. Prosecutors said the victims suffered undue injury in the amount of P3.7 million. The fire raised the issue of unsafe “sweatshop” labor conditions for workers in the country. SFM
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