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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales suspends two Fire Officials

The Office of the Ombudsman suspended two officials of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) for nine months for defrauding a fire victim of her just monetary claims against an insurance company in 2008.

In a 12-page decision approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO) found F/CSUPT Rolando M. Bandilla, Jr., Acting Chief, Intelligence Division and F/CINSP Jhufel M. Brañanola, Chief, Investigation Division, both of the BFP, guilty of Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed by one Emma C. L. Lin, owner of a property located at Cabyawan, Plaridel, Bulacan which was leased to three different companies and was insured under two Fire Policies in the amount of P56M and P20M with the Malayan Insurance Company Incorporated.

In her complaint, Lin alleged that Brañanola offered substantial amounts of money to three other Fire Officers “to create a doubt as to their earlier findings that the cause of the fire was accidental in nature” and that Bandilla “used his official position to whimsically and arbitrarily accede to the request of Malayan for the reevaluation of the 2nd Report despite strong opposition on the part of the complainant.”

Records of the case revealed that on February 24, 2008 at around 3:00 A.M, a fire broke out within complainant’s property. The fire incident, which reached 4th alarm fire status, was declared officially “fire-out” at around 7:00 A.M. As such, the property was destroyed by fire, including all other properties found therein.

In the first findings of the BFP, it was reported that the “fire incident was accidental in nature,” and that “the cause of the fire can attributed to electrical ignition primarily due to grounding.”

After receiving a Fire Clearance Certification, Lin filed her claim before Malayan but her claim was denied by the insurance company, prompting her to elevate the matter before the Insurance Commission.

On April 20, 2009, Bandilla issued an order for the composition of the Panel of Arson Investigators to re-investigate the fire incident.

Subsequently, on June 11, 2009, Insurance Commissioner Eduardo Malinis recommended that the company should reconsider its denial of the insurance claim of the complaint.

This prompted Malayan to request for reconsideration from BFFP of its 2nd report.

A second Panel led by Brañanola was created through a memorandum issued by Bandilla.

The panel recommended to the Acting Chief, BFP to consider and declare [the] fire incident that gutted the [subject property] to be “undetermined” due to the alleged contradicting findings of the BFP and the forensic report conducted by Malayan. The said report was approved and signed by Bandilla.

In her letter-request to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Lin asked the bureau to probe the alleged irregularities in the issuance of the BFP’s third findings.

On the basis of its own investigation, the Anti-Fraud and Computer Crimes Division of the NBI found that “by their collective acts of defrauding the fire victims, an inference can be drawn that Bandilla…and Brañanola acted in conspiracy with each other in order to create doubt in the findings of the BFP.”

Based on her complaint before the Anti-Graft Office, Lin stated that she was defrauded of her just monetary insurance claims against Malayan through the said respondents’ sinister acts.

In its ruling, the Office said that “ with all the foregoing elucidations, this Office finds sufficient substantial evidence against respondents for the administrative transgression of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service for they acted in conspiracy in the discharge of their respective official administrative functions, so as to create doubts as to its previous findings and with the end view of having complainant’s legitimate insurance claim denied, through manifest partiality and evident bad faith xxx” .

Justice Morales ordered Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo to immediately implement the suspension.

At the same time, charges of Violation of Sec. 3(e) of RA 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) were filed against the two Fire Officers before the Sandiganbayan. Ombudsman Media Bureau

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