Arson involved in Sarangani town hall fire?

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/20 Aug) – The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG)-led Inter-agency Anti-Arson Task Force (IATF) is set to take over the investigation on the burning earlier this month of the old municipal hall of Maasim town in Sarangani Province, an official of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) said.

Senior Insp. Jeraniel Taporco, acting provincial director of BFP-Sarangani, said they endorsed the case to the IATF for further investigation after finding initial evidences that established the August 4 burning of the old Maasim town hall as a case of arson.

“We found evidences that the incident was intentional but we don’t know the motive yet as of this time,” Taporco told reporters.

The BFP official, who led the investigation of the incident, formally presented their findings this week to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Sarangani.

Fire broke out at the rear portion of the old Maasim municipal hall around 3:50 a.m. last August 3, destroying several government offices, which include that of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Responding police personnel and municipal government employees failed to save most of the valuable items from the burning building as the town’s fire truck was not working and also due to the lack of available firefighting equipment in the area.

Taporco said they already submitted the evidences they have collected from the fire scene for proper evaluation at the arson laboratory in Manila.

He said they could not yet provide specific details of their findings, especially the arson angle, pending the completion of the arson laboratory tests.

“We already completed our official investigation report but we cannot release them yet without the laboratory findings as it would violate our investigation protocol,” Taporco said.

Sarangani Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez, who earlier called for a deeper probe on the incident, said they were satisfied with the BFP’s initial findings but urged them and other government investigating units to establish the motive and the possible masterminds of the arson.

“We made it clear to them earlier that we don’t want a hasty and shallow investigation. We want quality results,” the governor said.

Several sources earlier pointed to either the municipal Comelec office or the town’s Community Information and Development Office (CDIO) as the possible origin of the fire.

Sarangani board member Virgilio Tobias, who is a former BFP regional director, said it appeared that the CDIO served as storage area for the election paraphernalia that were used in the last May elections.

“Our law enforcement agencies and concerned investigating bodies should seriously look into this case because it appears that something big was behind it,” he said.

The results of the May 10 automated elections from the town are currently the subject of an election protest filed by defeated mayoral bet Arturo Lawa against proclaimed Maasim Mayor Jose Zamorro.

The Maasim Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBOC) earlier proclaimed independent candidate Zamorro as the winning mayor of Maasim after receiving 5,321 votes, edging his closest rival, former provincial board member Lawa, who only got 5,306 votes.

But Lawa, who ran under administration coalition Sarangani Reconciliation and Reformation Organization-Lakas-Kampi-CMD (Sarro-Lakas), immediately sought the nullification of Zamorro’s proclamation after it turned out that the MBOC failed to count the actual votes cast in clustered precinct 21 due to a transmission error.

The Comelec central office ordered late last month the reconvening of the MBOC to rectify the errors during the previous canvassing but it did not push through due to the absence of Maasim election officer Teresita Lucero. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)