BFP-11 chief: We’ll remove corrupt officials

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 07 March) — The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) in Region 11 on Wednesday said it was undertaking an “internal cleansing” to remove corrupt officials and “start doing what is right and proper for the BFP.”

During the AFP-PNP press conference on Wednesday at the Royal Mandaya Hotel, Sr. Supt. Wilberto Rico Neil A. Kwan Tiu, BFP-11 regional director admitted that corruption exists not only in the region but also nationwide.

Thirty eight workers, 37 of them call center agents, were killed during the December 23, 2017 fire in the NCCC Mall Davao along Matina corner Ma-a, Davao City. MindaNews photo taken on January 8, 2018 by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

But he added that they are undertaking measures to identify personnel involved in corrupt practices that are destroying the image of the BFP.

“It is necessary to discuss with people on the ground na dapat ayusin na ang aming trabaho considering salary increase is doble. Hindi pa ba kayo masaya (that we have to do our job right, considering that the salary has been doubled. Are you not happy?),” he said.

“No less than DILG (Department of Interior and Local Governments) Secretary (Eduardo Año) who told me to ‘tell your man to stop corruption’,” he said.

The statement that BFP-11 was doing an internal cleansing came on the heels of criminal complaints filed against some BFP-Davao officials in relation to the December 23, 2017 fire that hit NCCC Mall Davao and killed 38 workers.

Five BFP-Davao officials were relieved over the incident. They were Honey Fritz Alagano, then BFP-Davao fire marshal; Senior Fire Officer 1 Leo Lauzon, the fire safety inspector for SSI Office; Senior Fire Officer 2 Joel Quizmundo, the fire safety inspector for NCCC Mall; Senior Fire Officer 1 Roger Dumag, chief of the Fire Safety Section of Davao City; and Inspector Renero Jimenez, the station commander of SIR Fire Station.

But Kwan Tiu said he has no idea if these personnel were included in the complaints filed by the Interagency Anti-Arson Task Force as he has yet to receive a copy of the report submitted to the DILG last Monday.

The task force, the body created to investigate the fire, questioned why the mall management and its mall tenant, Survey Sampling International (SSI), were given fire safety inspection certificates in April 2017 and September 2017, respectively, despite non-compliance with fire safety standards.

The task force comprises representatives from the DILG, BFP, National Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice, and Criminal Investigation and Detection Group 11.

Kwan Tiu said the mall management admitted to have deliberately turned off the automatic fire suppression and alarm system due to the renovation on the third floor without giving BFP 11 a prior notice.

He added that the mall management should have informed the authorities, as required by the Fire Code of the Philippines, of any renovation or temporary stoppage of any fire protection system, including portable fire appliance, so that they can deploy a standby fire truck in case of emergency.

“If there is renovation, alteration or even stoppage of the functions of what is already installed in the building, particularly for fire protection, you have to ask clearance and permits from the Bureau of Fire (Protection),” he explained.

Based on the initial findings of the task force, the four-story mall and SSI failed to comply with fire safety requirements as they found lapses in the setup of the mall’s fire alarm, sprinkler system, and fire exits.

Last Sunday, task force deputy team leader and spokesperson Fire Supt. Jerry Candido said that they are looking at the possible filing of criminal complaints against officials of the mall, SSI, Rockfort Construction Company, BFP-Davao, Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), and City Building Office.

Thirty-seven of the 38 fatalities were SSI workers.

Candido said complaints for “imprudence and negligence” will be filed against officials of NCCC Mall, SSI and Rockfort Construction Company under Article 365 of the Revised Penal Code. Rockfort was commissioned to renovate the third floor, where the fire started.

Criminal complaints for violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act will be filed against officials from the BFP 11, PEZA, and CBO; separate criminal complaints for violation of the Fire Code of the Philippines and falsification of public documents against fire safety inspectors; and “simple misconduct” against some personnel of BFP 11, he said.

He added the task force is looking at filing complaints for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, gross dishonesty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service against some government officials who may be involved. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)