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Mayor indicted over Kentex fire deaths

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star
Mayor indicted over Kentex fire deaths
Investigation revealed that the factory failed to install a wet standpipe system, had unserviceable extinguishers, lacked an automatic fire alarm and sprinkler system and did not conduct fire exit drills for workers.
AP / Bullit Marquez, file

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman filed charges against Valenzuela City Mayor Rexlon Gatchalian and six others before the Sandiganbayan yesterday in connection with a factory fire that left 74 persons dead in May 2015.

Aside from Gatchalian, charges of graft and reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and multiple physical injury were also filed against Business Permits and Licensing Office (BPLO) chief Renchi May Mecina Padayao, licensing officer Eduardo Yco Carreon, city fire marshal Mel Jose Paredes Lagan, Senior Fire Inspector Edgrover Lim Oculam, Senior Fire Officer 2 Rolando Santiago Avendan and businessman Ong King Guan of Kentex Manufacturing Corp.

The ombudsman, as early as May this year, announced that it has found probable cause to charge Gatchalian and the rest of the respondents for their alleged negligence that led to the tragedy.

Graft investigators said business permits and fire safety inspection certificates were issued to Kentex despite blatant violations of the Fire Code committed by the firm.

Investigation revealed that the factory failed to install a wet standpipe system, had unserviceable extinguishers, lacked an automatic fire alarm and sprinkler system and did not conduct fire exit drills for workers.

Survivors of the blaze attested “that Kentex’s exit gates were locked or padlocked; there were no water sprinklers, fire extinguishers or fire alarms; and Kentex’s windows were enclosed with grills.”

The ombudsman noted that “in 2014, Kentex was inspected by BFP (Valenzuela) twice” and “on both occasions, its fire safety measures were declared deficient.”

Despite these deficiencies, graft investigators found out that Valenzuela officials allowed Kentex to continue operating, which shows that “the respondents’ acts or omissions, taken together, indicate a common understanding among them to turn a blind eye to Kentex’s delinquency and its foreseeable consequences.”

As for Ong, the ombudsman said “he cannot evade criminal liability for the loss of lives” as “the safety of all persons and all operations within the premises rested upon his shoulders.”

KENTEX FIRE

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