DOJ: BFP has authority to enforce fire safety regulations in casinos

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has reversed the legal opinion of his predecessor, Senator Leila De Lima, that apparently gave the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) the power to enforce fire safety standards in casinos.

Explaining the basis for the reversal, Aguirre issued a legal opinion on June 6 where he pointed out that the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) has the power and authority to enforce provisions of Republic Act 9514 or the Revised Fire Code of the Philippines of 2008 on PEZA-owned or administered ecozones.

“Given the clear legal mandate of the BFP under Republic Act No. 9514 (Revised Fire Code of the Philippines of 2008) and the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) Act of 1990 to enforce the Fire Code of the Philippines, there is indubitably no room for further interpretation of its mandate," Aguirre's legal opinion stated.

“Moreover, there is no provision in RA 9514 that would exempt PEZA-owned/administered ecozones from the enforcement authority of
BFP,” it added.

De Lima argued that the opinion she issued when she was still head of the Department of Justice was “merely an affirmation of the law” in accordance with Republic Act 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,” De Lima said in a statement on Wednesday.

“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,” she added.

But Aguirre said RA 7916 did not mention, "much less confer, any power or authority to PEZA to enforce the Fire Code of the Philippines within the boundaries of the eco-zones."

"Thus it cannot conduct fire safety inspection on enterprises duly registered with it as well as those within the zones nor can it issue Fire Safety Inspection Certificates (FISC)," the legal opinion read.

“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."

The justice chief noted that the PEZA Law took effect on February 24, 1995 while the Revised Fire Code of the Philippines was enacted on December 19, 2008.

"Thus, in case of conflict between the provisions of RA 7916, a prior law, and the provisions of RA 9514, a later enactment, the latter should prevail, it being the last expression of the legislative will," he said.

Aguirre issued the legal opinion upon the request of PEZA Director General Charito Plaza.

It also came after Aguirre partly blamed De Lima's legal opinion issued in March 2014 for the Resorts World Manila attack on June 2 where most of the 38 victims died of smoke inhalation caused by the fire started by gunman Jessie Carlos.

Carlos, an alleged gambling addict swamped with debts, later burned himself to death. — RSJ, GMA News

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