Valenzuela mayor faces criminal raps over Kentex blaze

MANILA – The Office of the Ombudsman has recommended the filing of criminal charges against Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian and several others over the deadly Kentex factory fire in May last year.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said probable cause has been found to charge Gatchalian, City Marshal Mel Jose Lagan, Senior Inspector Edgrover Oculam, Fire Safety Inspectors Rolando Avendan and Ramon Maderazo with graft and reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and physical injuries.

The May 13, 2015 fire left over 70 people dead. Several violations of the Fire Code were blamed for what happened to the factory employees.

Also charged with graft and reckless imprudence charges were Ong King Guan (a.k.a. Terence King Ong), owner of Kentex Manufacturing Corporation, and Business Permits and Licensing Office officer-in-charge Renchi May Padayao and licensing officer Eduardo Carreon.

The Office of the Ombudsman said business permits and Fire Safety Inspection Certificates were issued to Kentex despite violations of the Fire Code of the Philippines.

It was discovered that the structure lacked a wet standpipe system, automatic fire alarm and sprinkler system, and fire exit drills for workers. The factory also had non-functioning fire extinguishers and its windows were enclosed with grills.

READ: Slow pace of justice dismays camp of Kentex victims

The Ombudsman also noted that in 2014, Kentex was inspected by Bureau of Fire Protection - Valenzuela twice and "on both occasions, its fire safety measures were declared deficient." Despite the deficiencies, Kentex was still allowed to continue its operations.

"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,'' the Ombudsman said.

DISMISSAL

The Ombudsman earlier dismissed Gatchalian over the same case, but the Valenzuela mayor was able to secure a temporary restraining order from the Court of Appeals.

"This TRO is important because without it there will be a chilling effect on city mayors of highly urbanized cities as we all exercise the same procedure imposed by the DILG (Department of Interior and Local Government) memo circulars of Sec. [Jesse] Robredo," said Gatchalian.

"Furthermore, there will be irreparable damage to our economy and generate massive unemployment... Do they want these establishments to all close down?" he added.

Gatchalian said he will seek all possible legal remedies to stop the dismissal order.

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