Sandigan affirms ex- Quezon City execs’ conviction
Elizabeth Marcelo (The Philippine Star) - September 15, 2019 - 12:00am

Manor Hotel fire

MANILA, Philippines — The Sandiganbayan has upheld its decision sentencing two former Quezon City government officials to serve up to 30 years in prison in connection with the 2011 Manor Hotel fire that took the lives of 74 persons.

The court’s Seventh Division, in a 46-page resolution promulgated on Sept. 3, said it found no merit in the arguments raised by former city engineer and city building official Alfredo Macapugay and former electrical division chief Romeo Montellana in their respective motions seeking the reversal of their March 29 conviction for graft.

The cases stemmed from their alleged act of allowing the ill-fated hotel to operate from 1999 until the fire on Aug. 18, 2001 despite several violations of Fire and Building Codes.

The anti-graft court also denied the motions for reconsideration by the other accused: former engineer Romualdo Santos, former inspector Rodel Mesa, Manor Hotel owners and incorporators William Genato, Rebecca Genato and Marion Fernandez and hotel manager Candelara Arañador.

The Seventh Division maintained that the acts of the accused former Quezon City officials “not only show gross negligence amounting to bad faith, but, when taken together, also show that there was conspiracy in their willful non-compliance with their duties which lead to giving undue advantage, preference and benefit to Manor Hotel.”

The court reiterated that the public officials’ willful negligence, particularly in conducting electrical inspections, paved way for Manor Hotel “to operate notwithstanding its violations (which) resulted in damage and prejudice in the form of the death and injury to guests of the hotel.”

The court found no merit in Macapugay’s argument that it is the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) that has the sole responsibility of ensuring that the provisions of the Fire Code are observed by the private and public establishments.

The court pointed out that the Fire Code prescribes that if the building owner, administrator or occupant of a building does not address the fire hazard “the occupancy permit or permit to operate to operate shall be canceled.”

The Building Code states that the building official is empowered to issue or revoke the occupancy permit while the permit to operate is issued by the Office of the Mayor, it also said.

The court also said it is part of Montana’s job description as an electrical engineer IV and then as division chief to conduct an annual inspection.

The Sandiganbayan also dismissed the claims of Manor Hotel owners that the prosecution failed to establish the conspiracy among them and the accused city officials.

“The fire… could have been prevented had the accused public officials’ unjustified omission to do their duty and accused private individuals’ obstinate refusal to comply with the rules been duly addressed,” the court said.

“A conspiracy need not be proved by direct evidence of the acts charged, but may, and generally must be proven by a number of indefinite acts, conditions and circumstances,” it added.

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