Aguirre: BFP has sole authority to enforce fire laws

MANILA-- Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Wednesday reiterated that only the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) has the authority to implement the fire-related laws within the country's economic zones.

In a four-page legal opinion issued on Tuesday, Aguirre reversed and set aside DOJ Opinion No. 14 legal opinion issued by his predecessor and now detained Senator Leila de Lima in 2014 which gives Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) the authority to administer and enforce the Fire Code of the Philippines within its boundaries.

Aguirre held that it is only the BFP that is mandated to enforce, conduct inspections and ensure compliance of establishments with the provisions of Republic Act No. 9514, otherwise known as the Revised Fire Code of the Philippines of 2008.

Nakalagay doon sa batas na very clear na it is the Bureau of Fire Protection ang magpapatupad at mage-enforce ng batas ng Fire Code of the Philippines, under Republic Act 9514, enacted in 2008, samantalang yung PEZA law ay enacted 1995. Ina-adopt nila yun na ang Bureau of Fire Protection ang magpapatupad ng batas. Kaya because of that grievous mistake, talagang malaking pagkakamali, hindi na-enforce properly nitong Resorts World ang pagpapatupad ng Fire Code of the Philippines, Aguirre told reporters on Wednesday during the press conference.

Such mandate, according to the Justice Secretary, is also provided under the Department of Interior and Local Government Act of 1990 which states that the BFP is mandated to enforce the country's fire laws.

There is no provision in R.A. 9514 that would exempt PEZA-owned/administered ecozones from the enforcement authority of BFP. Its authority is broad enough to include the ecozones, Aguirre explained

Aguirre noted that De Lima's legal opinion relied heavily on the provisions of Section 9 of Republic Act 7916 or the Special Economic Zone Act and Section 5 Rule XII of the law's Implementing Rules and Regulations, as bases to support PEZA's authority to enforce the FCP.

Since ang naging enforcement authority nito ay PEZA, na wala namang kakayahan, walang expertise, walang experience sa pagpapatupad ng fire safety regulations sa ating bansa, yun ang naging bunga nung maling opinion na ginawa ni Sec. De Lima noong 2014, he said.

Likewise, Aguirre said Section 5, Rule XII of the IIR of R.A. 7916 does not provide any power or authority to PEZA to enforce the Fire Code as it merely allows the agency to maintain a firefighting force to ensure the enforcement of existing laws governing fire prevention, protection and safety within the boundaries of each ecozone and for this purpose, PEZA adopts the Fire Code of the Philippines.

Evidently, the reliance of said opinion on the provisions is misplaced. Consequently, DOJ Opinion No. 14 s. 2014 is hereby reversed and set aside, the legal opinion stated.

Aguirre said while PEZA may adopt the Fire Code and its IRR, it cannot by itself enforce the same within the boundaries of the ecozones.

While it may promulgate rules within the ecozones, the same must conform to abd be consistent with the provisions of the Fire Code and its IRR. The implementation/enforcement of the Fire Code of the Philippines in the ecozones shall remain to be the sole responsibility of the Bureau of Fire Protection, Aguirre stressed.

Aguirre issued the legal opinion upon the request of PEZA Director General Charito Plaza in relation to the proposal of the agency to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with the BFP, to resolve the overlapping of authority and functions between BFP and PEZA in the enforcement and implementation of the Fire Code inside the economic zones.

For her part, Plaza said that PEZA only accredited the hotel as tourism ecozone facility while the casinos were accredited by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).

She said PEZA is authorized by the law to issue occupancy and fire permit in accordance to the Fire Code of the Philippines because it has the "professional competency and conducts twice a year inspection of safety compliance which the locator complied with international standards required to five-star hotels."

RA 7916 authorized PEZA to regulate the occupancy, fire and safety permits thus we have civil safety, structural, mechanical and electrical engineers who inspects during the construction of industries' buildings and facilities and conducts twice a year and issues annual safety inspection compliance by all our industries. During fire incidents however, the BFP must help in suppressing the fires. The role of the BFP is to suppress the fires and issues safety permits to others except the industries under PEZA. Inside PEZA's public economic zone we have our own fire stations, trucks and firefighters, she said adding that fires under level 1 PEZA's fire stations will handle but in higher levels, the LGU and the regional BFPs should augment the PEZA fire stations.

Earlier, Aguirre disclosed that De Lima's legal opinion was to blame for the deaths as it prevented the BFP from implementing the country's fire laws on hotel casinos.

"Because of the said opinion, it is PEZA, a government agency without competence and experience in fire protection, who was given the authority to implement the Fire Code and its implementing rules and regulations respecting PEZA registered companies like the casinos. Such authority could not even be found in the enabling law, RA 7916," he noted.

It can be recalled that most of the fatalities died due to suffocation after the gunman burned gaming tables and carpets before burning himself to death inside one of the hotel's rooms.

Source: Philippines News Agency