DOJ: De Lima could be liable for PEZA regulation of casino fire safety

MANILA, Philippines – The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) probe into the attack on the Resorts World Manila Casino will cover a 2014 legal opinion by then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on the fire compliance of the casino building.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said on Monday, June 5, he's not saying at this stage that De Lima is liable, but nonetheless directed the NBI to look into the legal opinion.

The NBI probe is focused on the possible "criminal, civil, or administrative culpability" of government agencies.

“Is De Lima liable? No…unless it will be shown by evidence that there was illegal consideration in the issuance of the Department Order, or the legal opinion,” Aguirre said.

The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) is the primary agency tasked to implement fire laws and ensure the compliance of buildings to the fire code. However, in the case of Resorts World Manila Casino, the regulation was done by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA).

Aguirre saif this was because De Lima, through a legal opinion in 2014, set the rules that PEZA will have the jurisdiction over the casino because it is registered with them, as special economic zones are. 

"Because of the said legal opinion, it is the PEZA, a government agency without competence and experience in fire protection, that was given the authority to implement the Fire Code and its implementing rules and regulations on PEZA-registered companies like casinos," Aguirre said.

Aguirre said that this granting of power to PEZA is not provided for under Republic Act 7916 or the Special Economic Zone Act.

Investigations have not yet established whether the casino violated fire and building codes, but Aguirre said he is inclined to reverse De Lima's legal opinion on PEZA's power.

On Monday, the labor department contradicted PEZA's findings on another major fire incident. While PEZA said the HTI company was not liable in the factory fire at the Cavite Export Processing Zone, the Department of Labor and Employment said it found that the company did not meet a number of fire safety requirements.  

The deaths of 36 people in the attack on the casino was not due to shots from gunman Jessie Carlos, but from suffocation after he set tables on fire using gasoline. Carlos, himself, set himself ablaze and burned to his death.

Malacañang said there could be possible negligence "not only in casino security, but also in building design and safety protocol" on the part of the posh casino's management. –