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PNoy sees charges vs. Valenzuela officials over deadly factory fire


(UPDATED 9:39 p.m.) Saying the recent Valenzuela factory fire was a "tragedy waiting to happen," President Benigno Aquino III on Monday vowed to go after individuals responsible for the incident, including local government officials.
 
The President said that Valenzuela local government officials may be charged with reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and falsification of documents due to the tragedy.
 
Aquino pointed out that the Valenzuela City government should not have issued a business permit to factory owner Kentex Manufacturing Corporation without the required fire safety inspection certificate.
 
“'Iyong local government unit, alam ninyo na requirement iyong fire safety inspection certificate, binigyan ninyo ng business permit, binigyan din ng certificate of occupancy na wala itong fire safety inspection certificate,” he added.
 
He also questioned the factory’s lack of a fire safety inspection certificate from 1996 up to last year. Kentex was only able to secure such a document in 2012.
 
“Marami hong ginagawang kilos ngayon sa imbestigasyon patungo sa pagsasampa ng mga kaukulang mga kaso sa mga nagkulang na hindi sumunod sa mga batas na nandyan na,” Aquino said.
 
Aquino said 23 establishments in the vicinity of the razed factory were inspected by the Bureau of Fire Protection after the warehouse blaze. All failed to pass government standards. One establishment even had to be closed down.
 
Valenzuela City is currently headed by Mayor Rex Gatchalian, who is aligned with the opposition United Nationalist Alliance. 

The mayor's brother, Valenzuela Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian, was a spokesman for the UNA senatorial slate in 2013.

Preliminary probe 
 
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who was present during the President's briefing, said she would form a panel of prosecutors in the coming days to review the fire officials' findings.
 
De Lima said Valenzuela officials as high as the city mayor may face both criminal and administrative charges.
 
"Local government unit kasi bakit nag-issue nga ng business permit na wala ‘yung FSIC, fire safety inspection clearance or certificate, which is a mandatory requisite so bakit ganoon? Ilan ang mga ganyan na may mga business permit at walang FSIC," De Lima told reporters.
 
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who has supervision over the BFP, for his part said private individuals including the factory owner, the plant manager and even the contractor who did the welding works that caused the fire.
 
"Bakit hindi nila nasunod ngayon? Lahat naman ito ay nasa fire code, supposed to be ay sinusunod naman nila ito ng kusa," Roxas said in a separate interview.

‘BFP did its job’
 
During the briefing, Aquino also essentially cleared BFP officials of any liability.
 
He said the BFP adequately informed Kentex and the Valenzuela government about the factory’s violations of fire safety standards.
 
“‘Yung sa records na pinakita sa atin, kaya nga wala silang FSIC (fire safety inspection certificate), may violation, ginawa ng BFP trabaho nila, in 2014. In-inspect, may kakulangan, in-inform ang kaukulang kompanya at saka ang pagkainitindi ko local government unit din,” Aquino said.
 
“Hindi naman nila kailangan i-inform, kailangan mag-presenta ‘nung aplikante ‘yung FSIC. Wala silang ipresenta, hindi puwedeng bigyan ng permit. So parang ‘yon ang panigurado ng gobyerno na sundin ‘yung mga batas para mapangalagaan ‘yung kapakanan ng manggagawa,” he added.
 
Law allows LGUs to issue provisional permits
 
Mayor Gatchalian said that LGUs were allowed under the law to issue provisional business permits. He, however, added that it was still the responsibility of the BFP to make sure the establishments followed fire safety codes. 
 
"Because of Anti-Red Tape Act, the LGU can streamline the releases of these permits. It allows LGUs to issue a provisional business permit. It gives BFP responsibility to inspect the building after these provisional business permit and they have to go back to LGU," he added. 
 
Gatchalian said that as of February 2015, Valenzuela has 15,775 establishments but BFP only inspected 3,527 of these and only 16 percent were issued certificates. 
 
"Imagine sa Valenzuela may 15,000 na negosyo, 2,667 lang ang nabigyan ng fire safety certificates, what we will do? Will we just wait for this FSC to be released? What will happen to our economy? What will happen to the businesses? What will happen to the local economy and the local employees?" the mayor said. 

Gatchalian took the President's remarks to mean that the Department of the Interior and Local Government should investigate the matter. 
 
"I think if we look on the context, it is tasking the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) to investigate before the charges will be filed. But on the part of LGU, we are transparent since Day One," he said. 

Kentex factory fire
 
During a press briefing, Aquino used a scale model of the razed factory to explain the lack of protected fire exits and required sprinklers in the establishment. The blaze left 72 people dead.
 
Last May 14, at least 72 individuals died in a fire that razed a footwear factory in Valenzuela owned by Kentex Manufacturing Corporation. The BFP is currently leading the probe on the incident. 
 
The BFP, which is currently leading the investigation on the fire incident, said the factory appeared to have no fire safety evaluation clearance.

One of the factory’s fire exits also led to the ground floor, instead of outside the building.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) also earlier said that Kentex violated the Labor Code by hiring workers through CJC Manpower Services, an unregistered manpower agency. 

During the press briefing, Aquino also ordered the DOLE to find out how come this manpower agency supposedly has a 19-year-old owner.
 
“Medyo napapag-isip tayo tila napakagaling nitong batang ito, na may kapital na siya sa edad na 19, na nag-aaral siya at kaya niyang patakbuhin 'yung kanyang manpower services,” the President said.
 
The lawyer of the factory owners, however, said their camp followed all fire safety measures and labor laws.
 
Last week, President Aquino ordered government agencies to conduct a comprehensive review of the country’s safety standards in the workplace to avoid an incident similar to the Kentex factory fire. —KBK/NB/JJ, GMA News

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