Ombudsman files raps vs Mayor Gatchalian, 7 others over Kentex fire

MANILA, Philippines – The Ombudsman on Tuesday, March 15, said it has found probable cause to charge Valenzuela City Mayor Rexlon Gatchalian and 7 others over the deadly factory fire that gutted Kentex Manufacturing Corporation, killing at least 72 people in May last year.

Included in the charge sheet before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan were Gatchalian, Business Permits and Licensing Office (BPLO) officer-in-charge Renchi May Padayao, BPLO licensing officer Eduardo Carreon, Valenzuela City Fire Marshal Mel Jose Lagan, Senior Inspector Edgrover Oculam, Fire Safety Inspectors Rolando Avendan and Ramon Maderazo, and Kentex owner Ong King Guan (also known as Terence King Ong).

They face multiple counts of violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and for reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicides and multiple physical injuries.

In its investigation, the Ombudsman found that city officials issued business permits and fire safety inspection certificates despite violations of the Fire Code.

The Ombudsman also said that the footwear factory also failed to install a wet standpipe system, lacked serviceable extinguishers and an automatic fire alarm and sprinkler system, and failed to conduct fire exit drills for workers.

"Affidavits of the survivors attest to the fact 'that Kentex’s exit gates were locked or padlocked; there were no water sprinklers, fire extinguishers or fire alarms; and Kentex’s windows were enclosed with grills,'" the Ombudsman's statement said.

The factory was inspected twice by the fire bureau in 2014 and its safety measures declared deficient, yet Valenzuela officials still allowed Kentex to continue operations, the Ombudsman said.

As for Ong, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said he cannot evade criminal liability because "the safety of all persons and all operations within the premises rested upon his shoulders."

"The respondents’ acts or omissions, taken together, indicate a common understanding among them to turn a blind eye to Kentex’s delinquency and its foreseeable consequences," Morales said.

Earlier this month, the Ombudsman ordered the dismissal of Gatchalian and 6 other city officials over the deadly incident.

But the Valenzuela mayor was able to obtain a temporary restraining order from the Court of Appeals.

In the weeks that followed the May 2015 blaze, the Valenzuela City government has repeatedly defended its issuance of a provisional business permit to Kentex.

It cited memorandum circulars from the interior department and the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) that encourages local government units to set up one-stop shops to speed up the processing of business permits

Gatchalian earlier said that the city government issued Kentex a provisional permit. It was the BFP's responsibility, he said, to inspect business establishments and notify the city government if there were factories that failed to comply with the Fire Code and should have their permits revoked.

In the case of Kentex, Gatchalian said, the BFP never reported back with negative findings. – Rappler.com