Former Bureau of Fire Protection officials acquitted of graft charge

MANILA, Philippines – Over a decade since a contested insurance claim to a fire took place, two officers of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) were finally acquitted by the Sandiganbayan from graft charges.  

The Sandiganbayan Third Division said the evidence against BFP  Director Rolando Bandilla Jr. and Fire Chief Inspector Jhufel Brañanola were not enough to prove their guilt in the graft charges filed against them.

The two were accused of favoring an insurance company when they issued a third investigation report on a fire which broke out on February 24, 2008 in Bulacan.

Sandigan Associate Justice Bernelito R. Fernandez, said in a 24-page decision that the anti-graft court found the prosecution’s evidence did not establish that the BFP officers favored Malayan Insurance Company Incorporated when they issued a third investigation report. Presiding Justice and Third Division chairperson Amparo M. Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Sarah Jane T. Fernandez concurred.

The court said: “Accused Bandilla was well within his duty to order a reinvestigation of the subject fire. This Court finds found sufficient inconsistencies in the Final Investigation Report itself which would warrant a reinvestigation.”

According to trial records, a fire in Cabyawan, Plaridel, Bulacan, razed warehouses owned by Emma C. L. Lin  at 3 a.m. on February 24, 2008. Lin later claimed from the insurers, Malayan Insurance Corporation.

In her complaint, Lin said two previous investigation reports supported her insurance claims. Bandilla ordered Brañanola to conduct a third investigation. That probe relieved the insurance company of liability.

The local fire station which among the first responders to the scene filed a report which said that the cause of the fire was “accidental” and this was the same finding cited in the FCC issued on April 8, 2008.

Those two Fire Clearance Certification (FCC) reports, which blamed faulty electrical circuitry, were the basis for Lin’s claiming P56 million from the insurance.

Malayan’s investigators, however, found that the cause of the blaze was arson. The insurers submitted its findings to the BFP National Headquarters and asked for a reinvestigation.

During the review, it was determined that “no traces of short circuit” were found in the electrical wiring. An inter-agency task force created by the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo found that the original investigators were remiss in “deliberately omitting the electrical report stating no traces of a short circuit.”

The court also said that the denial of the Lin’s insurance claim were not only based on the BFP reports, but also on her failure to disclose her business relations with the occupants of the razed warehouse.

Lin said she was not connected with the Marubishi Manufacturing Industrial Incorporated, one of the companies renting the warehouse. Marubishi’s articles of incorporation and general information showed that she was both incorporator and its president. –