Investigators not ruling out arson after loss of documents
It was something they didn’t expect to happen.
Various documents of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Central Visayas (DENR-7) went up in smoke in an early dawn blaze which struck the old DENR compound in Banilad, Mandaue City on Monday.
The fire department had yet to determine the cause of the blaze, but it was not ruling out arson.
Short circuit or arson?
Fire investigator SFO2 Cipriano Codilla Jr. of the Mandaue City Fire Department believed that while the fire might have been triggered by electrical short circuit, they are not discounting other possibilities, including arson, after learning that several documents were burned in the two two-storey building units that were razed to the ground.
“Posibli nga duna’y mga dokumento didto nga ipasangil sa mga dautang kawani sa sunog aron dili na mahibaloan kung duna’y mga anomaliya. Posibli sab nga aksidente ang pagkasunog,” said Codilla.
(It is possible that there were documents there that were intentionally burned by rouge employees who will then blame the office fire to hide their anomalies; but it’s also possible that the fire was an accident.)
Sought for comment by Cebu Daily News, DENR-7 director Emma Melana said:
“We will leave it to the investigators. They are the experts on that field.”
The fire destroyed two buildings where old records and research offices were located before some of the agency’s operations were moved to the newer DENR-7 building in Sitio Sudlon, Barangay Lahug, Cebu City in 2014.
Anecita Dinoy, chief of the clearance and permitting division of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB-7), said the blaze destroyed what they called as land records building since it housed the old Land Management Services (LMS) office and a research building.
The LMS is an office of the DENR that handles land classification and management and disposition of alienable and disposable lands.
Vehicles and equipment
Also gutted down by the fire, beside the old LMS office, was the sampling room where the Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Central Visayas (MGB-7) kept their rock samples and crasher — an equipment used to reduce big rocks into smaller rocks or into powdered form.
These samples were collected by MGB-7 for their “clients” who requested their office to conduct an assessment or geological survey for various reasons.
The second and third floors of the building which housed the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) were also partly damaged by the fire which lasted a little more than an hour.
Six vehicles, including SUVs parked at the old buildings and two cars owned by DENR employees, were destroyed.
“We were not able to recover anything but we had yet to figure out what documents stored there were burned. There were a variety of documents stored in those buildings,” Dinoy said.
An inventory was being conducted to determine the documents lost in the fire.
By morning, DENR-7 employees were outside their offices sorting out the debris left by the blaze. Some were also sorting documents and equipment that were not gobbled up in the fire.
According to Codilla, the fire which was tapped at 2:59 a.m. originated at the research office and quickly spread to the adjacent LMS building and an old day care center of DENR-7.
Except for security guard Anthony Moradas who was guarding the DENR compound, no one was around when fire hit the two two-storey buildings made of concrete and light materials.
It was Moradas who called the fire department for assistance.
Damage was pegged at P1.2 million after the blaze was put under control at 4:20 a.m.
Melana assured that there were no “active or important documents” stored at the old LMS building at the time of the fire as documents had been moved to the new LMS building in Sudlon, Lahug.
Fedencio Carreon, chief of Technical Services Division of PENRO Cebu, said eight computers were destroyed in the fire that damaged the second and third floors of their building.
“The travel vouchers and receipts from PENRO were saved,” Carreon said.
Prior to Monday’s fire, there were three offices inside the DENR-7 compound in Barangay Banilad, namely, EMB-7, PENRO Cebu and MGB-7.
EMB is the government agency that sets air and water quality standards and monitors ambient and point source pollutants. It also manages hazardous and toxic wastes and implements the Philippine Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) system.
MGB takes charge in the administration and disposition of mineral lands and resources, as well as promulgates rules relating to mineral resources and geosciences developments.
PENRO is the agency responsible for implementing DENR policies, programs and projects in the province.
In a message on its Facebook page yesterday, EMB-7 said that all online and walk-in transactions were temporarily suspended while clearing operations were ongoing and the bureau’s power connection had yet to be restored.
“This is to ensure the safety of all stakeholders going in and out of the compound. Normal operations shall resume until further notice,” the EMB advisory read.