Press Release
June 7, 2017


Secretary Aguirre once again is shooting from the hip when he blames me for the Resorts World fire that was started by a lone gunman last Friday morning, June 2, 2017. He seems to imply that the proximate cause of the disaster is the lack of the Bureau of Fire Protection's authority over casinos that was supposedly, in turn, sanctioned in a DOJ Legal Opinion (DOJ Opinion No. 14, Series of 2014, 20 March 2014) issued during my incumbency as DOJ Secretary.

The DOJ Legal Opinion that I issued in 2014 was merely an affirmation of the law giving PEZA jurisdiction over PEZA-registered establishments in Special Economic Zones insofar as the implementation of the National Building Code and the Fire Code is concerned. This law is RA 7916 or the Special Economic Zone Act of 1995. To be statutorily precise about it -- a habit that seems to escape Secretary Aguirre's legal training -- the legal opinion did not specifically mention casinos as exempt from the jurisdiction of the BFP. Instead, it mentioned PEZA-registered establishments located in Special Economic Zones. A casino still has to be PEZA-registered in a Special Economic Zone before it can claim to be under PEZA jurisdiction instead of the BFP, insofar as the implementation of the Fire Code is concerned. If the casino is not a PEZA-registered establishment in a Special Economic Zone, then the BFP has authority to conduct fire inspection and issue a Fire Safety Insurance Certificate (FSIC), even if the establishment is a gambling casino.

The first question that should therefore be asked and answered in the Resorts World incident in so far as the issue of PEZA or BFP jurisdiction is concerned is whether or not the Resorts World casino where the incident took place is a PEZA-registered business. It is not enough that the casino is located in a Special Economic Zone for it to fall under the jurisdiction of the PEZA instead of the BFP. The casino must be PEZA-registered, i.e., it is qualified to avail of the incentives granted by the government to locators in Special Economic Zones under RA 7916. Only upon answering this question can we determine if the ResortsWorld casino is indeed under the jurisdiction of the PEZA instead of the BFP pursuant to RA 7916 and the 2014 DOJ Legal Opinion that I issued.

Secretary Aguirre purportedly has since rescinded the 2014 DOJ Legal Opinion and single-handedly gave BFP jurisdiction over PEZA-registered establishments and Special Economic Zones on matters of fire safety and prevention, including enforcement of the Fire Code. In my humble opinion, this could be a categorical violation of RA 7916 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations, specifically Section 5, Rule XII thereof, which gave PEZA jurisdiction in the enforcement of the Fire Code in Special Economic Zones. This is a matter between Secretary Aguirre and Congress, which passed the law giving PEZA jurisdiction on matters of fire safety in Special Economic Zones. But in so far as the Constitution is concerned, RA 7916 giving PEZA jurisdiction in Special Economic Zones must first be amended before Secretary Aguirre chooses to ignore it and do as he pleases just because in his opinion, PEZA has no capacity to enforce the Fire Code in Special Economic Zones.

RA 7916 has been in operation as a law of the land since 1995. This includes PEZA's performance of its mandate in enforcing fire safety and prevention regulations in Special Economic Zones in the past 22 years. Secretary Aguirre chooses to single-handedly abrogate this law 22 years later without any amendatory law duly passed by Congress. He also chose to do this in the absence of any formal investigation yet to be concluded on the proximate cause of the entrapment of the victims in the ResortsWorld fire. This is only characteristic of the government he serves, a government that is selective in its application of the law, and worse, that violates the law in the absence of any justifying or exempting circumstance founded on a concrete factual basis as determined in an official investigation.

The proper legal options are clear. Either amend RA 7916 that gave PEZA authority in the enforcement of fire safety and prevention regulations in Special Economic Zones, or ensure PEZA's capability to perform its mandated function as specified by Congress in said law. Single-handed, capricious, and whimsical abrogation of the law by the Secretary of Justice is not one of these proper legal options. It might be an option for a Secretary of Justice who does not care about the proper implementation of the law. But I was not that kind of Secretary of Justice. All I did was affirm RA 7916 as it was passed by Congress and implemented for 15 years before my incumbency, as any Secretary of Justice who seriously abides by her oath to uphold the law and the Constitution would do.

In any event, if that is the track of Secretary Aguirre, then he is four months too late, because he should have done this immediately after the HTI fire that hit the Cavite Export Processing Zone on February 1, 2017, which resulted in 5 deaths. The same issue of BFPs lack of jurisdiction over HTI as a locator in the Cavite Export Processing Zone was then raised in a multi-sectoral investigation conducted. Secretary Aguirre was already seven months into being Secretary of Justice then. He himself might have been caught sleeping at his post in the past four months after the HTI fire and before the ResortsWorld incident, or wasting his taxpayer-paid time filing bogus cases against me.

My message to Secretary Aguirre is this: Just do your job. Stop blaming me. Sooner or later people will realize that your, and your entire department's sole accomplishment is persecuting and putting me in jail. After some time, your own excuses of blaming me for every catastrophe that befalls this administration just won't wash with the public anymore, except with your fanatic supporters whose numbers are quickly dwindling by the day because of no one else's fault, but your and your boss's pathetic obsession with me.

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