Ex-Butuan mayor faces graft raps for fatal fire
The Ombudsman has ordered the filing of graft charges against former Butuan City Mayor Ferdinand Amante Jr. for issuing a business permit to a garments store that later burned down in a 2012 tragedy that killed 17 workers and turned out not to have a fire safety and inspection certificate (FSIC).
There was probable cause to indict Amante, as well as former licensing officer Paul Cabrera and acting city fire marshal Alric Gomez, for one count of violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the Ombudsman media bureau said Thursday.
As for their administrative liabilities, Amante and Cabrera were meted out a lifetime ban from public office as they were found guilty of gross neglect of duty. They were also ordered to pay a fine equivalent to one year’s salary.
The Ombudsman resolution arose from the May 9, 2012 fire at the Novo Jeans and Shirts Enterprises along Montilla Boulevard, where the mostly female stay-in workers slept at the top floor.
Investigation showed that Amante on Feb. 15, 2012, three months before the incident, issued a business permit to Novo upon Cabrera’s recommendation, despite the lack of a fire safety certificate.
The garments store was given a 30-day period to submit the necessary documents. But even as it failed to meet deadline, the city still failed to revoke the business permit.
Meanwhile, the Ombudsman faulted Gomez for failing to notify Amante of Novo’s noncompliance with the fire safety requirements and recommend the cancellation of the business permit.
The Ombudsman cited Section 5(g) of the Fire Code of the Philippines, which required the inspection of a business establishment for fire safety “every time” it applies for a business permit.
The antigraft prosecutor previously indicted Valenzuela City Mayor Rexlon Gatchalian and other officials for the issuance of a business permit to Kentex Manufacturing Corp. also despite having no FSIC, sometime before it burned down in a May 2015 incident that killed 74.
But, in the Kentex case, the Sandiganbayan dismissed the charges against the city officials because they were just following the letter of a local ordinance that streamlined the processing of business permits.
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