After taking the blame for allowing the Kentex footwear factory to operate even without a fire safety inspection certificate (FSIC), the Valenzuela City government on Thursday ordered the immediate closure of establishments that do not have clearance from the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).
The directive is contained in an executive order issued on Thursday by Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian. It ordered all business establishments in the city to present their valid fire safety inspection certificates to City Hall within 7 days from receipt of the directive.
“Otherwise, the immediate revocation and closure of the business establishment is hereby ordered without need of further notice, executive and/or closure order,” the mayor’s order read.
Thousands of workers, mostly daily wage earners, would be displaced once factories are closed down.
The executive order also suspends issuance or renewal of business permits without valid FSICs.
Valenzuela City, an industrial area in northern Metro Manila, has about 15,000 factories and commercial establishments.
According to Gatchalian, he had consulted Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd on the issue.
“Upon query by the undersigned mayor, Secretary Mar Roxas replied that the policy now is ‘No FSIC, No Business Permit’ and warned all mayors to take the risk arising from the issuance of business permits without the FSIC in cases of fire incidents in their areas of jurisdiction,” he said in his executive order.
“[It confirmed] that [former Interior]Secretary [Jesse] Robredo’s policy circulars authorizing issuance of business permits subject to post-FSIC inspection have already been abandoned,” the order said.
Of the more than 15,000 business establishments in Valenzuela City, only close to 2,700 have been issued FSICs.
Gatchalian’s order came about a week after President Benigno Aquino 3rd criticized city officials for issuing a temporary business permit to Kentex Manufacturing Corp., owner of the footwear factory that was gutted by fire on May 13 where 72 of its employees were killed.
Arson investigators said the fire was caused by sparks from a welding job near the main door that ignited flammable chemicals stored in the area.
The President, in a news conference he himself presided last June 1, said local officials of Valenzuela City could be charged with reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and falsification of documents because of the tragedy.
“There were people in the Valenzuela City government who gave them a permit and the certificate of occupancy. That is an established fact,” Aquino said. “There are people who died because of their lax enforcement of existing rules and they have to answer for that,” he added.
The President said Valenzuela City Hall should not have issued a business permit to Kentex without the required FSIC.
Speculations were rife that politics was behind the President’s pronouncements as Mayor Gatchalian is aligned with the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) while his brother, Sherwin, the city’s congressman, was the spokesman for the UNA senatorial slate in the 2013 elections.
Defending the issuance of the business permit, he cited memorandum circulars from the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Trade and Industry and the BFP which he claimed gave local government units the mandate to issue temporary business permits, based on a one-stop shop policy that was meant to cut red tape and speed up the processing of business permits.
Gatchalian said it was the BFP’s job to recommend to City Hall the revocation of business permits for establishments that fail to meet fire safety standards.
He added that in the case of Kentex, the BFP “never got back” to them.
“The fire department had 365 days to inspect Kentex, but it never came back to City Hall,” the mayor said.
BFP spokesman Supt. Renato Marcial said they will comply with Gatchalian’s directive.
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines-Nagkaisa, in a statement, said businesses that were deemed non-compliant with Fire Code regulations should at least be given 10 days to comply rather than closing them down.
WITH JING VILLAMENTE