By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Seventh Division has affirmed its decision convicting former Quezon City officials for graft in connection to the preferential treatment they extended to officials of Manor Hotel Inc. prior to a 2001 fire that resulted in the death of 74 people.
City Engineer Alfredo Macapugay of Quezon City and Electrical Division Chief Romeo Montallana of the Quezon City Engineering Office, together with Manor Hotel incorporators William Genato, Rebecca Genato, Marion Fernandez and Dionisio Agengino, and hotel manager Candelara Arañador, were found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of three counts of graft by the anti-graft court on March 29.
From the years 1999, 2000, and 2001, Macapugay and Montallana showed partiality to the Manor Hotel officials by failing to sanction them even after the hotel had repeatedly incurred violations against the provisions of the Fire Code and National Building Code of the Philippines.
To recall, a fire gutted Manor Hotel back in 2001 because inadequate fire safety measures were implemented by hotel management.
As a result, the fire caused “the death of about 74 innocent people as well as injuries suffered by several persons who were then billeted in the hotel arising from its defective electrical system,” according to their charge sheet.
Macapugay and Montallana filed their own motions for reconsideration, while the Manor incorporators shared a joint motion for reconsideration.
Macapugay insisted that the prosecution failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. He said he never dispensed with the conduct of annual inspection of buildings in Quezon City, and if any building was not inspected, it was due to the undermanned Office of Building Official.
Meanwhile, Montallana argued that the prosecution failed to prove the second element of graft, which is manifest partiality and evident bad faith in the conduct of his job.
He said that during his tenure as Electrical Engineer IV until February 17, 2000, he was not the head of the division since he was under the control and supervision of Electrical Engineer V or the City Engineer.
On the other hand, the Manor Hotel incorporators stressed in their MR that the act of conspiracy has not been proven. They stressed that they were not aware of the violations made by the hotel, so they cannot be held liable to an agreement to commit a felony.
However, the anti-graft court denied their MRs due to lack of merit. The court ruled that Macapugay’s arguments were nothing but a mere “rehash” of his previous motions, while Montallana’s belief that he was not at fault for failing to conduct the annual electrical inspection of the hotel was misplaced.
As for the argument of conspiracy, the anti-graft court further ruled that it was possible for “a conspiracy of silence and inaction to arise in the form of gross inexcusable negligence.”
“Herein accused’s acts not only show gross negligence amounting to bad faith, but, when taken together, also show that there was conspiracy in their wilful noncompliance with their duties which lead to giving undue advantage, preference and benefit to Manor Hotel by allowing it to operate notwithstanding its violations also resulted in damage and prejudice in the form of the death and injury to guests of the hotel,” the decision read.
The 46-page decision was written by Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses with the concurrence of Chairperson Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta and Associate Justice Georgina Hidalgo.