Sandiganbayan convicts 2 ex-QC execs, 8 others over Manor Hotel fire

THE Sandiganbayan Seventh Division has found two former local officials of the Quezon City government and eight others guilty beyond reasonable doubt in the 2001 Manor Hotel fire that killed 74 people.

Former Quezon City Engineer Alfredo Macapugay and Quezon City acting chief of the Electrical Division Romeo Montallana were sentenced to 18 to 30 years imprisonment for three counts of graft or six to 10 years for each case.

Also ordered imprisoned for 12 to 20 years are Manor Hotel Inc. incorporators William Genato, Rebecca Genato, Marion Fernandez, and Dionisio Arengino, hotel manager Candelaria Aranador, and Romualdo Santos, an employee of the City Engineer’s Office.

The anti-graft division also found Gerardo Villasenor and Rodel Mesa of the Electrical Division guilty for one count.

The ruling also barred Macapugay, Montallana, Santos, Mesa, and Villasenor from holding any public office and their retirement benefits were also ordered forfeited.

The Sandiganbayan meanwhile ordered the arrest of Antonio Beltran who is still in hiding.

The prosecution said the accused conspired to give Manor Hotel the needed permit for its operation despite its failure to comply with the National Building Code and Fire Code of the Philippines.

“Full implementation of safety regulations is necessary because in most instances, it only takes one violation left unchecked to trigger a disaster. Selective application of safety regulations amounts to none at all,” the Anti-Graft Court said in its 121-page ruling.

It said that officials should not use as defense the inadequacies or problems in their operations.

“They must devise ways to give full effect to these laws, as they swore to faithfully discharge their duties and functions to the best of their abilities when they took their oaths of office,” the court said.

Earlier, Macapugay alleged that the Office of the Ombudsman erroneously charged him as a “city engineer or building official” in connection with allegations that he and other city officials allowed Manor Hotel owners to continue its operation from 1999 to 2001 despite an earlier closure recommendation from the City Fire Marshall.

The prosecutors said the defendants allegedly gave undue preference to the hotel operators by allowing the establishment to continue doing business even after numerous violations of the National Building Code and Fire Code of the Philippines were reported.

However, Macapugay pointed out that under Section 477 of RA 7160 of the Local Government Code of 1991, “inspection and supervision of private buildings were not included” in the list of responsibilities of a building official hence the charges were defective.

The Anti-Graft Court said that under the Local Government Code of 1991, it was specifically provided that the “city and municipal engineer shall also act as the local building official.”