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Charges filed vs Unitop owner

- Bebot Sison Jr., Cecille Suerte Felipe -
Police filed criminal charges yesterday against the owner and executives of the department store in Ormoc City where dozens of shoppers perished in a fire caused by firecrackers on Christmas Day.

Ormoc City police chief Senior Superintendent Manuel Cubillo said charges of illegal manufacture and sale of firecrackers under Republic Act 7183 were filed against Ricardo Lim Brieto and Kenneth Tan, owner and operations manager of the Unitop General Merchandising, respectively.

"We learned that Brieto is the sole proprietor of Unitop and he has a number of personnel managing the business. We might include other individuals in the charges later," Cubillo said.

Cubillo revealed Brieto is a naturalized Filipino citizen while Tan is a Chinese national with a working visa.

Apart from the illegal sale of fireworks, Cubillo said charges of negligence resulting in multiple homicide and physical injuries are being readied against Brieto and the other respondents for the deaths of dozens during a fire inside the store.

Over 24 people were killed after a pile of firecrackers being sold inside the store was ignited, triggering a fire that razed down the building once used as a warehouse.

Most of the victims, officials noted, were trapped inside the smoldering building indicating the absence of sufficient fire exits.

The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) said the Unitop management had been negligent for putting padlocks on the emergency exits.

The Ormoc City police, the BFP and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) have been working together in an effort to gather more evidence against the owners of Unitop.

"We hope to establish more evidence to support the filing of charges. Initially, we already have the statements of survivors and witnesses. We hope to conclude our investigation as soon as possible," Cubillo said.

BFP spokesman Chief Inspector Renato Marcial added Brieto and the Unitop officials will likely face charges of negligence resulting in multiple homicide and multiple physical injuries for putting padlocks on the exit doors.

Marcial said the Unitop officials might also face charges for violating the Building Code of the Philippines.

As this developed, another victim died early yesterday, raising the death toll to 25.

Teresa Tarayo, a social worker, succumbed to infections while her three-year-old son Anton, remains in critical condition.

For the meantime, the families of the victims made an amicable settlement with the Unitop management for P135,000 for each of the victims.

The management made yesterday the partial payment of P20,000 each as part of its commitment to shoulder the funeral or medical expenses of the victims and survivors of the tragedy.

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno ordered the BFP to conduct inspections of department stores and similar structures in Metro Manila selling firecrackers.

Puno ordered BFP director Chief Superintendent Jose Collado to review structures in highly populated enclosed areas if they conform to the safety requirements under the Fire Building Code.

Under the law, pyrotechnic materials should not be sold inside enclosed structures but only in open spaces. — With Roberto Dejon

BRIETO

BRIETO AND THE UNITOP

BUILDING CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES

BUREAU OF FIRE PROTECTION

CHARGES

CHIEF INSPECTOR RENATO MARCIAL

CHIEF SUPERINTENDENT JOSE COLLADO

CHRISTMAS DAY

CUBILLO

ORMOC CITY

UNITOP

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