City of Naga mayor ‘caught in crossfire’

MAYOR Valdemar Chiong of the City of Naga, Cebu is facing a civil suit over the issuance of business permits to a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) plant in Barangay Langtad. 

Pryce Gases Inc., represented by Darwin Sarraga, the firm’s assistant vice president for corporate administrative services, filed the petition for prohibition and mandamus against Chiong and Petronas Energy Philippines.

Pryce Gases accused Chiong of illegally issuing a “conditional mayor’s business permits” to its competitor Petronas despite the absence of a fire safety inspection certificate. 

“Petitioner strenuously believes that it is its duty to ask relief from this court because the actuation of the public respondent (Chiong) is patently illegal and the issue involves the public interest because it violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution,” read Pryce Gases’ petition prepared by lawyers Julius Ceasar Entise and Bayani Atup.

Part of the job

In an interview yesterday, Chiong said being sued is part of the hazards of the job.

“Kay nisulod naman gyud ta ani, ato nalang atubangon (I’ve no choice but to face it),” Chiong told Sun.Star Cebu yesterday.

He said he is caught in the middle of a rivalry between Pryce Gases and Petronas.

He said Pryce Gases officials never approached him to clarify the matter and just filed the charges against him without notice.

Pryce Gases, in its petition, cited Section 5 of Republic Act 9514, or the Fire Code of the Philippines, which states that “no occupancy permit, business permit, or permit to operate shall be issued without securing a fire safety inspection certificate.”

The petitioner said Chiong committed “grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess of and lack of jurisdiction” when he issued the mayor’s permit to Petronas despite the absence of required documents.

Apart from the restraining order, the petitioner wants the court to issue a writ of preliminary injunction that will stop Chiong from issuing the conditional mayor’s business permit. 

Last August, Sarraga also filed administrative charges before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas against Chiong and City Administrator Arthur Villamor for alleged gross dereliction of duty, gross misconduct and violation of the anti-graft law. 

‘Conspiracy’

Sarraga said Chiong and Villamor conspired to issue the mayor’s permit to Petronas, although it failed to comply with the distance requirement, pursuant to the fire safety inspection certificate that the Bureau of Fire Protection issues. 

Sarraga said his office received a letter from a “concerned resident” of Barangay Langtad asking them about the safety implications and risks of the two LPG storage tanks belonging to Petronas in Barangay Langtad. 

He said he found that the LPG tanks of Petronas were not far enough from residential houses. 

Despite this, Sarraga said the city fire marshal issued a fire safety inspection certificate to Petronas. 

The fire safety certificate expired on Dec.31, 2013. City Fire Marshal Vilma Abarquez told the Provincial Board last March that the local government did not issue a new certificate to Petronas. 

But Chiong issued a mayor’s permit, dated April 4, 2014, to Petronas, allowing the firm to operate as a wholesaler of LPG, said Sarraga. 

Denial

Chiong, for his part, denied committing grave abuse of discretion when he canceled the business permit of Pryce Gases. 

He said the city fire marshal found out that the plant failed to comply with the Fire Code. 

Chiong also denied allegations that he offered a conditional business permit to the company. He said it was Pryce Gases that asked for it first. 

The company, which has been operating in Barangay South Poblacion since 1997, claimed that the City Government committed “illegal and malicious” acts when it cancelled the company’s fire safety inspection certificate and business permit despite complying with the standards set by the Fire Code.
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