Valenzuela mayor, 6 others ordered dismissed over Kentex fire

MANILA, Philippines – The Ombudsman has ordered the dismissal of Valenzuela City Mayor Rexlon "Rex" Gatchalian and 6 others over the deadly blaze that hit footwear factory Kentex Manufacturing Corporation, killing at least 72 people in May last year. 

But the Valenzuela mayor said on Saturday, March 5, that he was able to secure a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Court of Appeals.

In its resolution, the Ombudsman found the following guilty of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty: 

The 7 were ordered dismissed from service, with accessory penalties of forfeiture of benefits and privileges and perpetual disqualification from holding public office.

The Ombudsman also found probable cause to charge Gatchalian, Padayao, Carreon, Lagan, Oculam, Avendan, and Kentex operations manager Terrence King Ong with reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicides and multiple physical injuries.

It also charged officers of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) for violating the Fire Code by issuing Kentex a fire safety inspection certificate, while city officials were charged for issuing a business permit to the fire-hit factory in 2014 and 2015 despite its failure to comply with Fire Code regulations.

The Ombudsman recommended the filing of appropriate charges against the respondents.

The Valenzuela city government earlier defended its issuance of a provisional business permit to Kentex, citing memorandum circular 2011-05 of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) signed by the late secretary Jesse Robredo.

Gatchalian also cited DILG and BFP circulars recognizing one-stop shops to speed up the processing of business permits in cities and municipalities.

Gatchalian earlier said it was the BFP's responsibility to inspect business establishments and notify the city government if there were factories that did not comply with the Fire Code.

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

The Valenzuela mayor also said that the TRO he obtained stopping the Ombudsman's order was "important" to avoid a "chilling effect" on other local chief executives. 

"This TRO is important because without it there will be a chilling effect on city mayors of highly urbanized cities, as we all exercise the same procedure imposed by the DILG memo circulars of Secretary Robredo," Gatchalian said.

Political motive

Meanwhile, Senator Francis Escudero hinted at a political motive behind the dismissal order of Gatchalian, the spokesperson of presidential candidate Senator Grace Poe. Gatchalian is also a member of the Nationalist People's Coalition, which is backing the Poe-Escudero tandem for the May 2016 polls. 

Escudero questioned why Gatchalian was singled out, when all mayors are authorized to issue a provisional permit before the BFP's issuance of a fire safety inspection certificate.

"Hindi naman siguro tama na isa lang at hindi naman siguro nagkataon lang na NPC pa ang biglang binabaan ng ganyang desisyon at spokesperson pa ni Senator Grace samantala ginagawa 'yan ng lahat ng mayor," Escudero said.

(It's not right that only one has been issued that decision, and it happens to be a member of the NPC and Senator Grace Poe's spokesperson, when all mayors do that.)

Hinting that the administration was behind the move, Escudero added that Poe's rival for the presidency, former interior secretary and administration bet Manuel Roxas II, is also aware of the DILG circular. –