MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals (CA) has cleared Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian of administrative charges for his alleged liability in the 2015 Kentex fire tragedy that killed 74 people.
The CA’s 15th Division granted Gatchalian’s petition seeking to reverse the joint resolution issued by the Office of the Ombudsman on February 11, 2016 finding him guilty of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty for the fire.
This comes after the Sandiganbayan in December 2016 dismissed the criminal charges – graft and reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and physical injuries – against Gatchalian. The Ombudsman has already petitioned the anti-graft court to reinstate the charges.
According to the CA’s 23-page decision, the responsibility to enforce the fire code falls on the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) and not the local government unit (LGU).
The court noted that while it was the LGU and the Business Permits and Licensing Office (BPLO) that issued the business permits, such issuance can be considered provisional, pending the final approval of the Bureau of Fire Protection who will determine whether an establishment is compliant with the fire code.
“Mayor Gatchalian complied with his mandated duty under the law. Any finding of negligence on his part, would be in effect imposing upon him a duty that it is not provided by law,” CA’s decision read.
The court added: “The procedure provided by the administrative issuances imposes the BFP-V the duty to inspect and determine compliance with the Fire Code. He merely relies on the report of the BFP,” the appellate court added.
BFP-Valenzuela issued Kentex with a notice to comply in 2014, but the CA noted that they did not furnish a copy to the BPLO, thus when Gatchalian issued a business permit to Kentex in 2015, he and the BPLO officials were not aware of Kentex’s non-compliance.
In the Sandiganbayan’s dismissal of the criminal charges against Gatchalian, the anti-graft court said Gatchalian 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). – Rappler.com
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