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SC affirms junking of admin, criminal charges vs Gatchalian over 2015 Kentex fire
Photo taken on May 13, 2015 shows firemen battling a blaze razing the footwear factory of Kentex Manufacturing Corp. in Valenzuela. The fire claimed the lives of 74 employees, resulting in charges against company, city and fire safety officials.
Ernie Peñaredondo

SC affirms junking of admin, criminal charges vs Gatchalian over 2015 Kentex fire

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - June 23, 2021 - 6:55pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has upheld the dismissal of administrative and criminal charges against Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian and two other city officials over the 2015 Kentex fire that resulted in the death of 74 workers and injury to several others.

The SC’s First Division dismissed the consolidated petitions for review filed by the Office of the Ombudsman and the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the Office of the Special Prosecutor assailing resolutions and ruling clearing Gatchalian, Business Permit and Licensing Office officer-in-charge Renchi Padayao and BPLO officer IV Eduardo Carreon of charges connected to the fire.

“[I]n light of the foregoing, the Court resolves to deny both Petitions for Review. Accordingly… the Court affirms the Decision dated 28 November 2016 ad Resolution dated 20 March 2017 of the Court of Appeals… while… it affirms the joint resolution dated 13 December 2016 and Resolution dated 8 June 2017 in the Sandiganbayan Criminal Cases,” the ruling dated Feb. 10, 2021 read.

The Ombudsman and the DILG assailed the Court of Appeals ruling that dismissed grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty charges against Gatchalian.

The Office of the Special Prosecutor, meanwhile, assailed the decision of the Sandiganbayan Second Division that said it found no probable cause to order the arrest and proceed with the graft and reckless imprudence trial of Gatchalian, Padayao and Carreon.

Administrative cases

In resolving the petition on the dismissal of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty against Gatchalian, the SC said that the city mayor “had no hand in the issuance of the business permits of Kentex and all other business establishments during the time material to the case since the matter has been delegated to the BPLO.”

The SC noted that the Departments of Trade and Industry, and of the Interior and Local Government issued a joint memorandum circular on Aug. 6, 2010 that calls on local government units to reduce steps and processing time for business permits and allow them to issue “temporary permits” to give applicants time to comply with other requirements.

The Sangguniang Panglungsod of Valenzuela then enacted Ordinance No. 62 allowing the renewal of business permits prior to issuance of Fire Safety Inspection Certificate (FSIC) by the Bureau of Fire Protection.

It added that under the Business One-Stop Stop of the BFP, the bureau is mandated to prescribe a shortened procedure.

“Considering the foregoing, it is beyond dispute that the streamlined procedure for the issuance of business permits allowed submission of the FSIC within a reasonable time for the issuance of business permits,” the ruling read.

“Therefore, in issuing a business permit to Kentex, the City Government of Valenzuela merely followed the procedure laid down in Joint Memorandum Circular No. 1, Ordinance 62 and other administrative issuance of the BFP and DILG,” the SC added.

On Sandiganbayan ruling

The Office of the Special Prosecutor accused the Sandiganbayan of erring when it dismissed the case instead of proceeding to trial despite the Ombudsman’s finding of probable cause against Gatchalian, Padayao and Carreon.

In the charge sheets the ombudsman accused Gatchalian of conspiring with Padayao, Carreon and officials of the Valenzuela Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) in issuing business permit to Kentex in 2014 and 2015, allegedly without ensuring that it had complied with fire safety measures.

On Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the SC said “[t]here was no showing that Kentex was given undue advantage, preference or any unwarranted benefits."

The SC said it agrees with the Sandiganbayan that held in the assailed resolution that the second element on graft charges for causing undue injury to the government or giving unwarranted benefits to a private party.

“It is not shown that with respect to Kentex, the LGU of Valenzuela deviated from the procedures applied to other business establishments,” the ruling read.

The SC also said that undue injury in the context of Section 3(e) of RA 3019 is equated with actual damage in civil law and it is thus important that injury was produced by proximate cause.

In the case of Kentex fire, the SC noted that “[t]he proximate cause of the fire which resulted to the death and injury of the victims was the stockpiling of 400 sacks or ten tins of Supercell Blowing Agent known as Azodicarbonamide, in an area not intended for such storage and adjacent to the welding activities near the stockpile.”

“There is no direct causal connection between the issuance of the business permit and the fire which resulted to the death and injury of the victims,” it added.

Reckless imprudence charge

On the dismissal of the reckless imprudence charge resulting to multiple homicide and multiple injuries charge, the SC recalled that it had held that there is no direct causal relation between the death and physical injuries and alleged negligence of respondents in issuing business permits.

“In fine, the Court is convinced that the Sandiganbayan correctly dismissed the cases for lack of probable cause and the CA correctly granted Mayor Gatchalian’s Petiton,” it said.

Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda penned the ruling. Then-Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, Associate Justices Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, Rosmari Carandang and Samuel Gaerlan concurred. — with reports from The STAR/Elizabeth Marcelo

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