THE National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) 7 charged two personnel of the Bureau of Fire and Protection (BFP) 7 for allegedly extorting money from the manager of a private school.

Senior Fire Officer 4 Joseph Jaca Ababon and Leonidas Gelladuga Binatero Jr., a non-uniformed BFP personnel, were named respondents in the direct bribery and violation of Republic Act (RA) 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) charges filed before the Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor yesterday afternoon.

Operatives of NBI 7 led by special investigator Agapito Gierran caught the respondents in an entrapment operation inside the Cebu City Treasurer's Office (CTO) last Wednesday afternoon.

Binatero allegedly accepted P10,000 from Manilyn Mar, manager of a school, and gave it to Ababon, who hid the money in a desk. Binatero and Ababon allegedly asked money from Mar in exchange for a safety inspection certificate.

The NBI took a video of the entrapment operation.

The BFP personnel maintained a desk at the CTO to process and issue fire safety evaluation clearances for establishments applying for business permit.

Barred

The arrest of the two prompted the CTO to bar the BFP from maintaining the satellite office at City Hall. But Cebu City Fire Marshal Rogelio Bongabong wrote the CTO to say he will send two personnel to replace Binatero and Bongabong.

During the inquest proceeding conducted by Assistant Liceria Rabillas, Binatero and Ababon opted not to avail of their right to preliminary investigation. As a result the complaints will be filed in court for trial.

Rabillas said both violations committed by the respondents are bailable.

Binatero and Ababon refused to speak to reporters. They wore baseball caps and dark wraparound shades during the inquest proceeding.

While a bondswoman took pictures of the two respondents before the inquest, a photojournalist took a photo of them.

Binatero complained at the media attention.

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

Binatero allegedly gave Mar a contact number of a fire extinguisher supplier.

Mar said the fire safety inspector 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.

Doors

Binatero also allegedly told Mar that she had to replace the fire exit doors, or just pay him P30,000. The amount was eventually lowered to P10,000.

Mar and an NBI agent met Binatero at the parking lot outside the Cebu City Hall last Wednesday. But Binatero accepted the P10,000 when they were already inside the treasurer's office.

Bongabong assured the CTO that the replacement of Binatero and Ababon have no record of any misdemeanor or irregularity.

But he said BFP would back down if City Hall decides not to re-open the fire station’s satellite office at the CTO.

Convenience

“It is okay. It was for the convenience of the taxpayers (that we put up) a satellite office there, not ours,” said Bongabong.

He said the Cebu City Fire Station will conduct a separate investigation on Binatero and Ababon.

Bongabong told Sun.Star Cebu in a phone interview that his office submitted an incident report to the BFP 7.

He said he did not get any report about the alleged irregularities of the two men at the CTO.

He said Ababon had been at the CTO for almost a year, while Binatero was assigned only last month.

To ensure that all transactions with the Cebu City Fire Station are above board, Bongabong advised property owners to always ask for a receipt. “Never pay fees outside our offices,” he added.