Serendra never checked Unit 501B renovations

Natashya Gutierrez

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Despite email requests by unit owner Marianne Cayton-Castillo, Serendra failed to perform any spot checks on the apartment during the April-May renovations

POWERFUL EXPLOSION. Police investigate the explosion at Serendra, a posh enclave in Taguig at around 8pm on Friday, May 31. Photo by Robin Leonard

MANILA, Philippines – The owner of Unit 501B at Two Serendra had written the building’s maintenance unit as early as April to ask for assistance regarding her renovation.

By the time her unit exploded on Friday, May 31, her request had yet to be addressed.

According to documents Marianne Castillo turned over to Interior Secretary Mar Roxas when they met on Friday, June 7, Castillo sent an email to 3 different Serendra departments on Sunday, April 14. In the email, a frustrated Castillo asked for the administration’s help in moving a sprinkler.

“My unit is now on renovation and as per my architect, they cannot move the sprinkler as per admin’s instruction. My architect keeps on following up from your office and he cant get concrete response,” the email said.

“I gave them a deadline and my unit needs to be finished by 1st week of May. I hope you guys will assist my architect,” it added. 

About 8 hours later, the Serendra building administration responded to acknowledge her request, and said it would forward Castillo’s concern to the engineering department. Castillo responded within 15 minutes to say she also noticed a leak on her bathroom ceiling that she would like the maintenance team to inspect.

Serendra never got back to Castillo, according to her. The renovations and cleanup in Castillo’s apartment finished on Wednesday, May 29, two days before the massive blast that killed 3 and injured 4.

In an email dated Sunday, June 2, the US-based Castillo asked her interior designer if Serendra maintenance ever inspected the unit to fix the water leak in her bathroom as she requested.

Castillo said she found out Serendra not only failed to heed her requests, but maintenance also did not perform a final inspection on the apartment or any spot checks during the course of the renovation. The apartment’s renovations did not end until the last week of May.

A week after the blast, Roxas announced that the explosion was likely caused by a gas leak in Castillo’s unit from the building’s centralized piped-in system that distributes liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to Serendra.

No spot checks

According to the email reply of Castillo’s interior designer, Castillo’s contractor asked Serendra’s engineer on May 29 “to inspect the unit before they leave but [the] engineer declined because they need the as-built drawings.”

The interior designer said the contractor had tried to ask for an exception, and requested for an ocular inspection at least. He promised to send the as-built plans at the soonest since Angelito San Juan, Castillo’s family friend, was planning to borrow the apartment in two days. But the engineer declined.

“He was firm he needed the as-built plans first before they can make an ocular,” the email said.

The interior designer also said no Serendra personnel ever checked on “the watermark on the ceiling” which they noticed even before construction began, despite Castillo’s April email.

“According to [the contractor], as far as when the workers were present and in control of the unit, the engineer never showed up. Even the cracks at your balcony, he said he would check but never came…. according to [the contractor], the engineer never came up to visit [the] site to check,” the interior designer’s email said.

Serendra’s reply

Ayala Land Inc (ALI) spokesperson Jorge Marco was brief in his response to Rappler when asked about the issue.

“Serendra property management can best help the unit owners if such matters are taken up directly with them,” he said in a text message.

In the email, the interior designer also said “the contractor did not make any repiping, they just repainted the ceiling.”

According to Castillo’s counsel, Raymund Fortun, the only renovation made in the apartment was to transform the 1-bedroom unit into two bedrooms. He said the kitchen, where the gas pipe is located, was never touched.

Despite the lack of final inspection, however, Serendra management allowed the 9-day stay of San Juan in the unit from May 31-June 9.

It was his first day in the unit when the explosion occurred, hurting San Juan himself.  San Juan is currently being treated for burns in St Luke’s Taguig.

In an interview with ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel) show Headstart, Roxas, who led the inter-agency probe of the blast, said they will continue to investigate the cause of the gas leak, in order to pinpoint who is liable.

Among the things he said the probers will scrutinize are the quality of work of the maintenance team, whether gas pipes were touched during the renovation, whether or not the unit had a gas detector, and the safety precautions of Serendra against gas leaks. –

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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.