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“Why are LGUs being penalized for following the law?” - Mayor REX Gatchalian

Mayor REX Gatchalian, together with the city council, speaks to the press at the City Hall, June 1, after the Malacanang media conference.

Photo by: Rodrigo de Guzman
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Mayor REX Gatchalian browses through his notes before the start of the press conference at the City Hall, June 1.

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A press conference is being called at the City Hall, June 1 in relation to the investigation of Kentex fire tragedy that killed 72 people.

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Mayor REX Gatchalian in a huddle with the media in a press conference held at the City Hall, June 1, in relation to the investigation on Kentex fire tragedy.

Photo by: Rodrigo de Guzman
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Last May 13, fire consumed the warehouses/industrial buildings utilized by Kentex Manufacturing Corporation, located at Tatalon Street, Barangay Ugong, Valenzuela City. A total of 72 bodies were found inside the burned slipper factory. It has been ruled by investigators that this fire was an accident, having been caused by a welder working in the premises at the time.

An Inter-Agency Anti-Arson Task Force (IATF) was formed by Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas to investigate the incident and come up with recommendations to prevent a repeat of Kentex. The IATF is chaired by the DILG secretary and co-chaired by the Secretary, Department of Justice. Its members include the chiefs of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Safety Organization of the Philippines (SOPI).

It is unfortunate that despite the detailed and legally grounded position paper submitted by Valenzuela City Hall officials Mr. Edison Ching M. Padilla, Building Official and Ms. Renchi May M. Padayao, OIC Business Permits and Licensing Office (BPLO), the IATF chose to ignore their arguments and sided with the BFP’s position that Kentex Manufacturing should not have been given the business permit since it has no Fire Safety Inspection Certificate (FSIC) issued by the local Fire Marshall. 

The act of giving Kentex a provisional business permit supposedly violated Section 5 in relation to Section 11 of R.A. 9154 otherwise known as the Revised Fire Code of the Philippines of 2008, specifically the provision that “No occupancy permit, business or permit to operate shall be issued without securing a Fire Safety Inspection Certification (FSIC) from the Chief, BFP, or his/her duly authorized representative.” This was before Secretary Jesse Robredo’s memorandum circulars authorising local government units (LGUs) to issue provisional business permits pending inspection by the BFP.

It should be noted that the three memorandum circulars issued by Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) have specifically authorised LGUs to issue provisional business permits with the BFP conducting its fire safety inspection of the establishments   and recommend for the retention or the revocation of the permit.

The three memorandum circulars which LGUs like Valenzuela City used as legal basis for the issuance of provisional business permits are:

1. Joint DILG-DTI Joint Memorandum Circular No. 01, Series of 2010 - August 6, 2010 — In order to comply with the above streamlined steps, inspections usually undertaken for compliance with zoning and environment ordinances, building and fire safety, health and sanitation regulations undertaken during the construction phase SHALL NOT be conducted again by the LGU as part of the requirements for for business registration. Instead, inspections to check compliance with all the requirement standards will be undertaken within the year after the issuance of the business permit.

2. Secretary Jesse M. Robredo’s DILG Memorandum Circular No. 2011-05- January 4, 2011 — “In addition to the ‘Notice to Comply/Notice to Correct Violations’ issued to erring occupancies, the City/Municipal Fire Marshall shall then issue a written report notifying the Local Chief Executive wherein all the names of the non-compliant establishments are listed, and expressly stating therein a recommendation not to issue any of the following permits, or revoke existing ones, when applicable - - xxx”

3. BFP Memorandum dated 24 September 2012 -  Re Guidelines in the processing of Fire Safety Inspection Certificate (FSIC) during renewal of business permits specifically in areas where one-stop-shop is being implemented.

—The BFP Memorandum basically adhered to the principle of streamlining the processing of business permits by providing for procedures for inspection before or after the business permitting process.

—The BFP Memorandum called for the periodic safety inspection of any building, structure and establishment two (2) of three (3) months in advance before the scheduled renewal of any permits or licenses by the BPLO. There is no need for the submission or referral of the application for business permits before such inspection is conducted.

—The Memorandum provided for the inspection of establishments with issued business permit during the one-stop-shop within three (3) days upon receipt of payment of the pertinent fire code fees.

Based on these Memorandum Circulars, the Valenzuela City Council passed Ordinance No. 62, series of 2012 otherwise known as “An Ordinance Establishing the 3-S in Public Service Program in Valenzuela City and Providing Funds Therefor.”

Section 6 of City Ordinance No. 62 of 2012 provides that: Post Audit Inspection. The main feature of this program is the post auditing scheme. This warrants post inspection of the issued regulatory permits and clearances within reasonable time to double check the owners faithful confirmation to any regulatory measures and requirements. This includes sanitation permits, locational clearance and fire safety inspection permits. This is to ensure that the only compliant and first rate business subsist in the city.”

It is thus clear that the insistence of the BFP that Valenzuela City Hall officials are liable for the Kentex incident is baseless and is but a cover for the incompetence of the local BFP. It is on record that the concerned  BFP officials in Valenzuela City never reported to us any fire safety violations of any company. And the BFP is now trying to pass the blame on the LGU when in truth and in fact, they should be the one charged for gross neglect of duty and utter incompetence.

Based on the records of the Valenzuela City BPLO, there were 15,775 business permit renewal applications for the period of January 1-Dec. 31, 2014. Of the total, however, only 3,577 or 22.54 percent of the total establishments were given the FSIC as reported by F/Senior Insp. Edgrover Ocular during the Feb. 20, 2015 meeting of the Peace and Order Council.

This a tacit admission on the part of the Valenzuela City BFP of its incompetence in doing its duty of inspecting all business establishments to determine their fire safety compliance. Add to this is the fact that BFP, a member of the Peace and Order Council NEVER informed nor notified the City through the Mayor or the BPLO of any adverse findings with respect to any Fire Safety Inspection it conducted, in the form of negative list, notice to comply or information on any violation. This runs counter to Secretary Robredo’s Memo Circular No. 2011-05 requiring the City/Municipal Fire Marshall to issue a written report notifying the Local Chief Executive of all the names of non-compliant establishments.

It is the height of irony that we are now being penalised for following the memorandum circulars issued by the DILG and the BFP which authorized LGUs like Valenzuela City to issue provisional business permits pending issuance of the FSIC by the local fire marshall. 

It is now up to the DILG, which has administrative and operational control on the BFP, to assert the efficacy of its Memorandum Circular No. 2011-05 since failure to do so will severely damage the credibility of the department. And what will happen now to the other LGUs who also followed the DILG-BFP memo circulars?

There is also no doubt in my  mind that the BFP is now passing the buck to LGUs to cover their incompetence as shown by their failure to inform the Office of the Mayor of Valenzuela City on the fire safety violations of Kentex Manufacturing Corp. The BFP Memorandum dated Sept. 24, 2012 provided for the inspection of establishments with provisional business permits within three (3) days upon receipt of payment of pertinent fire code fees. 

The City did not only remit payment of pertinent fire code fees to BFP but also endorsed all business permit applications to the BFP for information and appropriate action. The Application Form of Kentex, together with all other application forms for business permits for 2015 were forwarded to F/Supt. Mel Jose P. Lagan of the BFP for his information and appropriate action.

Likewise, the share of the BFP from the total collection of the Fire Code fees from Jan. 12-17, 2015 which were paid as part of the payments for the issuance of the Business Permit were remitted to the BFP. It was this incumbent upon the BFP to conduct the inspection of the premises.

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. On the contrary, it merely adhered to a procedure provided by the Joint Memorandum of DILG and DTI, Memorandum Circular 2011-05 and City Ordinance 62 Series of 2012,  which have the force and effect of law. 

Valenzuela City fully believed that adopting such procedure would stimulate and not stifle business and development within its jurisdiction. The post audit compliance provided by the Joint Memorandum is even consistent with the procedure in the implementing rules and regulations of the Fire Code. 

The business permit and licensing system adopted by Valenzuela City was never designed or formulated to compromise the safety and welfare of the general public, but was issued in response to government’s call for streamlined business processing.

Truth be told, Valenzuela City’s application of such procedure resulted in a streamlined and efficient system for the issuance of business and other permits. Such program was recognized as one of the outstanding local government programs for 2012 with Valenzuela City winning the Galing Pook Award and Most Business-Friendly LGU bestowed by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI).

Editor's Note: The Mayor, during the press conference, showed a Powerpoint presentation expounding his key points on the above press statement. A PDF version of the said presentation may be downloaded here.

2015-06-01 | By: Mayor REX Gatchalian

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