Ombudsman suspends two BFP execs for 9 months

November 11, 2011 10:34 pm 

By Perfecto T. Raymundo, Jr.

MANILA, Nov. 11 – The Office of the Ombudsman (Ombudsman) has 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 ruling approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO) found BFP Chief Supt. Rolando M. Bandilla, Jr., acting chief of the Intelligence Division and BFP Chief Insp. Jhufel M. Brañanola, chief of the Investigation Division, guilty of "Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service."

The case arose 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 P56 million and P20 million, respectively, with the Malayan Insurance Company, Inc.

In her complaint, Lin alleged that Brañanola offered substantial amounts of money to three other BFP 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 showed that on Feb. 24, 2008 at around 3 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 be 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 case 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 complainant.

This prompted Malayan to request for reconsideration from BFP 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 of the 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 NBI to probe the alleged irregularities in the issuance of the BFP's third findings.

On the basis of its own investigation, the NBI's Anti-Fraud and Computer Crimes Division 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."

In her complaint before the Ombudman, Lin said that she was defrauded of her just monetary insurance claims against Malayan through the said respondents' sinister acts.

In its decision, the Ombudsman 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".

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

Likewise, charges of violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, otherwise known as the "Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act", were filed against the two BFP officers before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan. (PNA)

RMA/PTR/utb

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