THE Office of the Ombudsman filed criminal cases against Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian, Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) official, and a businessman in connection with the fire that razed a slipper factory in Valenzuela City that killed 74 workers on May 13, 2015.
Assistant Special Prosecutor Maria Janina J. Hidalgo said a case of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and multiple physical injuries was filed against Gatchalian, City Business Permits and Licensing Office head Renchi May Mecina Padayao, licensing officer Eduardo Carreon, BFP-Valenzuela City fire marshal Mel Jose Lagan, Senior Fire Inspector Edgrover Oculam, Senior Fire Officer Rolando Avendan, and Kentex general manager Ong King Guan, a.k.a. Terence King Ong.
At the same time, the prosecution lodged two additional counts of violation of Republic Act (RA) No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act against Gatchalian, Padayao and Carreon while Ong was charged with an additional count of graft.
In an interview, Gatchalian said his lawyers will ask the anti-graft court to dismiss the charges against him for being baseless.
Gatchalian maintained that he and the other city officials did nothing wrong and that they are ready to face the charges. He explained that they just made business in Valenzuela City easier and raised its rank in global competitiveness in terms of issuance of permits.
“The charges should be dismissed for being baseless and unfounded,” Gatchalian pointed out, adding he would post a preemptive bail for him and other accused officials.
But the Office of the Ombudsman said the respondent city and BFP officials acted “in a negligent, careless and imprudent manner” by approving and issuing a business permit in favor of Kentex in January 2014 even when the establishment failed to secure a Fire Safety Inspection Certificate.
According to the investigators, even after the permit was granted, it should have been revoked to stop Kentex from operating when it failed to comply with requirements within the prescribed period.
They added that in the absence of or with inadequate fire safety measures, Kentex should have been shut down due to its “delinquent status.”
The Ombudsman also moved a claim of undue injury amounting to P3.7 million in behalf of those who died and those who sustained injuries from the fire.
Last year, Gatchalian and five other city officials underwent preliminary investigation for alleged graft and violation of fire safety laws and faced administrative charges before the Office of the Ombudsman regarding the fire that gutted the building of Kentex Manufacturing Corp.
In a resolution issued in March recommending indictment of all respondent, the Ombudsman noted several adverse findings including unserviceable extinguishers, lack of automatic fire alarm and sprinkler system, and failure to conduct fire exit drills for workers.