VALENZUELA City Mayor Rex Gatchalian could be among those who would be charged for the footwear factory fire that killed 72 people last month.
In a press conference in Malacañang Monday, President Benigno Aquino III said that Kentex Manufacturing Corp., which owns the footwear factory that was gutted by fire on May 13, violated the Fire Code.
Among the violations allegedly committed by Kentex include no automatic fire suppression system or water sprinklers, no fire detection and alarm system, no dry standpipe, no protected fire escape, and no organized fire brigade.
Aquino said that from 1996 to 2015, Kentex was only issued the Fire Safety Inspection Certificate (FSIC) in 2012.
"So, may mga nagkulang sa kanilang mga tungkulin at iyon ay pananagutin natin," he said, noting that the Department of Justice has already been conducting the preliminary investigation.
"Pinapamadali natin 'yung proseso para naman masigurado makasampa na ng kaukulang kaso at baka biglang mawala ang lahat ng mga dapat na managot," he said.
Aquino said those who would be charged will face reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide.
Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II told reporters after Aquino's press conference that Gatchalian could be among those government officials who could be charged because it is the Office of the Mayor that issued the business permit.
Gatchalian disputed this, as he asked why they are being penalized for following national government regulations.
The mayor said they followed memorandum circulars issued by the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Bureau of Fire Protection that authorized local government units like Valenzuela City to issue provisional business permits pending issuance of the FSIC by the local fire marshal.
"The officers of Valenzuela City maintain they did not violate any law in issuing the business permits to businesses in Valenzuela City including the one issued to Kentex," the statement said.
"On the contrary, it merely adhered to a procedure provided by the Joint Memorandum of DILG and DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), Memorandum Circular 2011-05 and City Ordinance 62 Series of 2012, which have the force and effect of law," it added.
Aside from local government officials, the President said that the owner and officials of Kentex, as well as the manpower agency that recruited some of the workers who died in the factory could face possible charges.
But labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said Aquino was being selective in his call for accountability over the factory blaze.
KMU said Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz and Roxas should also be held liable.
The group said Baldoz's agency granted Kentex a certificate of compliance in relation to occupational health and safety standards and general labor standards a few months before the factory fire.
Roxas, on the other hand, supervises the BFP, which allowed Kentex to operate despite the factory’s non-compliance with fire safety standards and failed to notify the City Government of Valenzuela of the said non-compliance.
"It appears that Aquino broke his silence on the issue more than two weeks after the factory fire to take a swipe at political adversaries at the local level and whitewash the accountability of Baldoz and Roxas for the factory fire. He spoke not in the interest of justice but in the interest of politics, especially with the 2016 elections in view," KMU said.
Gatchalian is allied with the opposition United Nationalist Alliance headed by presidential aspirant, Vice President Jejomar Binay. (SDR/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)