by Elizabeth Marcelo (The Philippine Star), 3 Oct 2020
MANILA, Philippines — An executive of a Valenzuela footwear factory where 74 people – mostly workers – were trapped and killed in a fire in May 2015 has been acquitted of criminal charges, along with three officials of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).
In a 60-page decision promulgated on Sept. 22, the Sandiganbayan Second Division acquitted Kentex general manager Ong King Guan, also known as Terence King Ong, of violating Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Ong, together with BFP-Valenzuela City fire marshal Mel Jose Lagan, fire senior inspector Edgrover Oculam and senior fire officer Rolando Avendan, was also acquitted of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and multiple physical injuries under Article 365 of the Revised Penal Code.
“Upon examination of the evidence of the prosecution and the defense, the court finds that the prosecution failed to prove the guilt of the accused with moral certainty,” the Second Division’s decision read.
“The court commiserates with the families of the victims on that fateful incident but it has to yield to the constitutional right of the accused to be presumed innocent,” it added.
The Second Division had earlier dismissed with finality the cases against primary accused Valenzuela City Mayor Rexlon Gatchalian as well as those against two city officials, Business Permit and Licensing Office officer-in-charge Renchi Padayao and BPLO officer IV Eduardo Carreon. Kentex footwear factory was located in Barangay Ugong in Valenzuela City.
Based on the charge sheets filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2015, the accused city officials allowed Kentex “to continue operating under hazardous conditions resulting in the deaths of 74 individuals and physical injuries of others and causing damages to the victims in the amount of P3.7 million.”
The ombudsman said a business permit was issued to Kentex for 2015 “despite its delinquent status” and its failure to present a Fire Safety Inspection Certificate, “thereby allowing Kentex to continue operating with inadequate fire safety measures.”
In its decision, however, the Second Division maintained that based on the findings of the Interagency Anti-Arson Task Force, which conducted a probe on the incident, the proximate cause of the fire was not the supposed negligence of city hall and BFP officials, but rather the “molten slags from welding rods that came into contact with Supercell Blowing Agents,” a combustible material.