2 inspectors of BFP nailed

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Friday, June 13, 2014


TWO fire safety inspectors of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Cebu City were arrested Wednesday afternoon during an entrapment for allegedly extorting money from a taxpayer.

Senior Fire Officer 4 Joseph Ababon and Leonidas Benatero, a non-uniformed personnel, were caught by operatives of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) 7 inside the City Treasurer’s Office (CTO) in Cebu City Hall after accepting the P10,000-bribe from a private school manager.

Mayor Michael Rama immediately thanked the NBI 7 for arresting the men, saying it shows that City Hall means business.

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The operation led by special investigator Agapito Gierran stemmed from the complaint of Marilyn Mar, a former Sangguniang Kabataan chairman of Barangay Punta Princesa.

Mar, now the executive manager of South Speak English Institute Inc., sought the help of NBI 7 after Benatero allegedly asked for money in exchange for a safety inspection certificate.

The safety inspection certificate is a requirement of the issuance of a business permit.

A joint inspection team from Cebu City Hall went to the school last May 29 for a scheduled inspection for their application of change of address of their principal office.

The school is on F. Sotto Drive in Barangay Camputhaw.

In her affidavit, Mar said Benatero recommended that she should buy five brand new fire extinguishers and refill the existing seven fire extinguishers.

Benatero allegedly gave Mar a contact number of the supplier of fire extinguishers.

The complainant said that Benatero would only sign and approve the application if she could show a receipt of her purchase.

Mar paid P25,250 for a fire extinguisher to a certain Michael. But she said the fire extinguisher she saw in stores only cost P15,000 to P17,000 each.

After following the fire safety inspector’s instruction, Benatero allegedly told Mar that she had to replace the fire exit doors, or she can just pay him P30,000. The amount was eventually lowered to P10,000.

On Wednesday, Mar and an NBI agent met Benatero at the parking lot. Benatero did not accept the P10,000 right away. He instructed them to go with him to their office.

Once inside the office, Benatero received the money and gave it to Ababon, chief of the Fire Safety Enforcement. The NBI 7 found the money under the drawer.

Benatero and Ababon will be charged for direct bribery and violating the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Law.

Following the incident, the CTO will no longer allow the BFP to set up a satellite office in City Hall.

Acting City Treasurer Diwa Cuevas said they had allowed the BFP to set up a satellite office in CTO so the taxpayers would no longer have to go to the BFP office on N. Bacalso Ave. to get a safety inspection certificate.

She clarified that the City has no share in the revenue that BFP generates from the issuance of a safety inspection certificate.

Cuevas said that her decision to close the BFP satellite office is their way of protecting the CTO and the City Government’s image.

“We now have a reason to keep them from holding office here,” she said.

Mayor Michael Rama, for his part, thanked the NBI 7 during his Independence Day message yesterday for arresting the two officers. His speech focused on fighting corruption.

“Thanks to the NBI that there’s an actual arrest. It gives meaning that City Hall means business,” he said.

In his regular news conference after the City’s Independence Day celebration, Rama said the two firemen should be relieved.

“Because there is no place for anyone who is stealing,” he said.

Rama added, though, that the two should still be accorded due process.

In a report aired over GMA 7’s Balitang Bisdak, City Fire Marshal Rogelio Bongabong Jr. said the incident could hurt the morale of his other personnel.

“Our name and image could be tainted. The public might think that all firemen are like them when there are many of us who are serious with our job,” he said.

Bongabong said the case will also be forwarded to their national headquarters for a separate investigation on the two fire safety inspectors.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 13, 2014.

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