Valenzuela Mayor Gatchalian faces criminal raps over deadly Kentex fire

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Early this month, Mayor Rex Gatchalian and six other Valenzuela City officials were dismissed by the Ombudsman for grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty. But Gatchalian said the dismissal order is not taking effect yet as he has secured a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Court of Appeals (CA).

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Office of the Ombudsman found probable cause to charge Valenzuela City Mayor Rexlon Gatchalian for the May 2015 Kentex fire that killed over 70 people.

Gatchalian is facing multiple counts of violation of Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Reckless Imprudence resulting in multiple homicides and multiple physical injuries.

Kentex Manufacturing Corp. owner Ong King Guan also faces charges together with the following local government officials:

  • Business Permits and Licensing Office (BPLO) officer-in-charge Renchi May Padayao
  • BPLO Licensing Officer Eduardo Carreon
  • City Marshal Mel Jose Lagan, Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP)
  • Senior Inspector Edgrover Oculam
  • Fire Safety Inspectors Rolando Avendan and Ramon Maderazo

Related: Complaints filed against 8 gov't officials over Kentex fire

After an investigation, the Ombudsman ruled that the city officials issued business permits and fire safety inspection certificates to the Kentex footwear factory despite “blatant violations of the Fire Code,” including failure to install a wet standpipe system, unserviceable extinguishers, lack of automatic fire alarm and sprinkler system, and absence of fire exit drills for workers.

The Ombudsman said these findings coincide with survivors’ affidavits saying “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.”

Related: Exit locked at Kentex footwear factory — fire survivors

In 2014, Kentex was inspected by the BFP Valenzuela twice. On both occasions, its fire safety measures were declared deficient, but Valenzuela officials still allowed it to continue operations, according to the Ombudsman.

In a press release on Tuesday (March 15), Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said “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.”

For Ong’s part, Morales said the Kentex owner cannot evade criminal liability for the loss of lives within the premises of his factory.

Related: Darkest Father's Day for dad of two Kentex fire victims

The fire that gutted the footwear factory is one of the worst blazes to hit the country next to the 1996 O-Zone disco bar that killed 162 people and a 2001 Quezon City hotel fire that left 75 people dead.

Dismissed

Early this month, Gatchalian and the Valenzuela City officials were also dismissed by the Ombudsman for grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty.

But Gatchalian, who also is the spokesman of presidential candidate Sen. Grace Poe, said he acquired a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Court of Appeals (CA).

Meanwhile, during the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s preliminary hearing on complaints filed against Kentex officials on February 22, Kentex’s Representative Atty. Renato Paraiso said the company has already compensated 98 percent of the victims’ families.

Related: Financial aid for Kentex workers not enough?

He added that the footwear factory maintains its innocence.

Related: Victims' families complain of poor working conditions