By Czarina Nicole Ong
The Sandiganbayan Second Division has cleared Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian and two others of two graft and reckless imprudence charges in connection with the tragic Kentex factory fire on May 13, 2015 that killed 74 workers.
In a resolution dated December 13, second division associate justices Michael Musngi, Samuel Martires and Geraldine Faith Econg dismissed the issuance of warrants of arrest against Gatchalian, business permits and licensing office (BPLO) officer-in-charge Renchi May Padayao and licensing officer Eduardo Carreon for lack of probable cause.
Gatchalian was accused of being negligent and giving unwarranted benefits and privileges to Kentex by issuing a business permit for its operations in 2014 and 2015 despite the company’s delinquent status and lack of fire safety inspection certificate.
But Gatchalian’s lawyers argued that he had no knowledge that Kentex was unqualified or not legally entitled to its business permit.
“The business permits were issued to Kentex in good faith following a procedure that allows compliance with other requirements subsequent to the issuance of the business permit,” they said.
“Kentex filed the necessary application, submitted the required documents, and was issued the business permits in accordance with the established procedure,” they continued. “There was no notice from the Bureau of Fire Protection that Kentex was in any way non-compliant with the provisions of the fire code.”
The court agreed: “Considering that the actions of the accused LGU officials were pursuant to existing laws, rules and ordinance, then they could not be said to have acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.”
The court added that the accused were not involved in the incident which caused the fire since there is no direct connection between the fire and the damage incurred and the acts supposedly committed by the accused, so they cannot be charged with reckless imprudence resulting to multiple homicide and multiple physical injuries.