BFP snubs Belmonte’s fire marshal pick

The controversy continues on the ranks of the Bureau of Fire Protection as reports that the leadership of the BFP is snubbing the order of Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte of appointing a fire marshal in the Quezon City Fire Department.

This comes as Daily Tribune discovered that most of fire safety inspectors and firefighters at the QCFD are saying that there exist the alleged “bata-bata” system and a “quota system” in the agency.

Just recently, the QCFD held a turnover ceremony at the BFP National Capital Region office where Sr. Supt. Florian Guerrero was named as the next District Fire Marshal of Quezon City, replacing Sr. Supt. Aristotle Bañaga.

Bañaga, was relieved because of unfortunate fire incident a couple of months ago where a fire gutted a residential house converted into a warehouse located at Barangay Tandang Sora which resulted to 15 deaths — which included retired General George Ancheta.

Ancheta was an uncle of Quezon City Council Majority Leader Dorothy Delarmente, who is also the chairperson of the Committee on Laws, Rules and Internal Government.

During the council’s investigation, it was discovered that there were indeed lapses committed by QCFD for their failure to conduct the required yearly inspection based on the provision of the Fire Code of the Philippines and its Revised IRR.

Though records showed that there were inspections undertaken in the year 2021, it failed to notice an unauthorized business activities at the address where the blaze killed 15 people. Because no inspection was conducted in 2022 and 2023.

The incident prompted Belmonte to recommend to Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. — who has jurisdiction over BFP — the relief of Bañaga and his Fire Safety Enforcement Section head Chief Inspector Dominic Salvacion.

Abalos then ordered another thorough investigation and let BFP chief director Louie Puracan handle the situation. Puracan instructed Bañaga to take a leave and passed the judgement to BFP-NCR chief Region head Chief Supt. Nahum Tarroza who immediately issue an order dated 18 September 2023, appointing Bañaga’s deputy, Supt. Gilbert Arellano as “caretaker” of the Office of the Quezon City Fire Marshal.

However, Tarroza has also appointed Supt. Rowena Gollod, an “under rank” official, who was in “floating status” for being assigned at the Personnel Holding and Accounting Unit as the Deputy Fire Marshal, replacing Arellano.

BFP sources disclosed that Tarroza is allegedly trying to prevent the city government from appointing its own choice for fire marshal because the BFP leadership allegedly benefits from the “bata-bata” and “quota system” in which fire marshals are required to “remit” certain amount of money to the BFP for every Fire Safety Inspection Certificate that they issue.

This quota system allegedly could bring in as much as P100,000 per month for BFP higher-ups. In Quezon City, the fire marshal should allegedly accumulate and “remit” P300,000 monthly. P100,000 each for BFP national and metropolis office, and for two DILG padrinos who are holding an Undersecretary positions, a former Quezon City official and the other, a retired firefighter, who could influence Abalos on every BFP issue.

Appreciating the BFP gesture of relieving Bañaga and Salvacion without any administrative orders, Belmonte wrote Puracan on 2 October 2023, expressing her thanks to the BFP and recommended that she preferred to have Sr. Supt. Dennis Molo — a former QCFD Deputy — as the Chief of the QCFD and Arellano as his deputy.

“As a seasoned Fire Officer, F/SSupt. Molo has generously shared extensive knowledge, experience and expertise with the City Goverment. His contributions in the crafting of public safety policies, formulating and recommending fire safety plans, executing on-the- ground operations and proposing engagement with potential national and international partners-stakeholders have been highly appreciated. For his part, F/Supt. Arellano, as lawyer, has been instrumental in his knowledge of the Fire Code, DILG directives and other relevant laws.” Belmonte wrote in her recommendation letter to Puracan.

Puracan then responded to Belmonte by rationalizing his decision in designating Guerrero and brushed aside the Mayor’s recommendation to assign  Molo as QCFD Marshal by saying the latter should process first his transfer to the BFP-NCR, as Molo was already assigned at BFP-Region 4A office.

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