After criminal charges, civil and admin cases will be filed vs USEP officials

Lawyer Raneolo Leonar, counsel of the parents of 16-year old victim, Cheryl  Sarate, said  University of Southeastern Philippines (USEP), said they will also file administrative cases against USEP officials with the Office of the Ombudsman this week.

He said they are also preparing to file a civil case against the University itself for damages. He said it could be "a million-peso" suit.

Sarate's gown caught fire during a beauty pageant inside the school premises on July 20. She suffered third degree burns and died in a government hospital on July 23. She was a Bachelor of Arts Major in English student who dreamed of becoming as lawyer, Leonar said.

The NBI, which investigated the case upon request of Rosita Sarate, the victim's mother, put the burden of responsibility on Ortiz and the others for Sarate's death.

It filed a criminal complaint against USEP president Dr. Julieta Ortiz and 16 other individuals including student organizers of the "Lady and Lord Utopia" beauty pageant for alleged “reckless imprudence resulting to homicide.”

It also recommended administrative charges against Ortiz and six other university officials.

It noted that the Guild of English Students which organized the pageant was liable. The NBI cited in its recommendation that the group was ignorant of  fire protection rules in the use of torch and candles and their failure to prepare safety measures for the pageant.

The NBI said there is also legal basis to hold the Dean of USEP's College of Arts and Sciences and the adviser of the student group "criminally liable" as overseers of the activity. The NBI also included the Director of the Office of the Student Services "who is responsible for the safety and security of the entire university".

The NBI  belied claims of the USEP administration that there were firefighting equipment in the beauty pageant's venue. The NBI complaint, signed by regional director Romulo G. Manapsal, cited testimonies from students who witnessed the event.

The complaint also named the vice president for Administration, the director of CEDO, a university department, and an employee,

The NBI said the Sarate's death could have been prevented had the administrators, teachers and student organizers performed their functions.

The NBI noted that based on the investigation of the Bureau of Fire Protection in Region 11, the school committed two violations in relation to the incident because of lack of fire extinguishers and the use of candles during the pageants based on the National Fire Code.

Leonar said the case should serve as an eye opener for school officials to be more cautious about their responsibility for the safety of their students. "The students are the main people in the university," he said.

He also said parents should not be ignorant of  the liability of schools on matters of safety for their children.

He said students and students organizations should also learn from the experience.

City Prosecutor Raul Bendigo told MindaNews Tuesday that the case was assigned today to investigating prosecutor Maria Gemma Dabbay. Bendigo said the penalty of the offense could be 10 years imprisonment.. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)