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The Department of Justice (DOJ) reversed a legal opinion issued by its former head, detained Senator Leila de Lima, on the matter of which agency has the authority to enforce the Fire Code of the Philippines in establishments, including casinos, registered with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA).
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, in a 4-page Legal Opinion, dated June 6, 2017, explained that the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), not the PEZA, "has the power and authority to enforce provisions of Republic Act No. 9514, otherwise known as 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."
"Moreover, there is no provision in RA 9514 that would exempt PEZA owned/administered ecozones from the enforcement authority of BFP," Aguirre's legal opinion stated.
He further explained that Republic Act (RA) No. 7916, as amended, or the Special Economic Zone Act of 1995 (PEZA Law), only provides for the establishment of internal security and firefighting forces in ecozones, and does not confer any authority on PEZA to enforce the Fire Code within these ecozones.
It is the DOJ's position that PEZA "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)."
"While [PEZA] may promulgate rules within the ecozones, the same must conform to and be consistent with the provisions of the Fire Code and its [Implementing Rules and Regulations].
"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 legal opinion read.
As a final point, Aguirre stressed that the PEZA Law took effect on February 24, 1995 while the Revised Fire Code of the Philippines took effect on December 19, 2008. The latter's repealing clause repealed all other laws, rules and regulations, that may be inconsistent with it, he added.
DE LIMA'S LEGAL OPINION
De Lima's Legal Opinion, issued on March 20, 2014, was in response to a query by the BFP on which agency has jurisdiction over the fire safety inspection of enterprises duly registered with PEZA. The query stemmed from an objection from PEZA-registered Solaire Resort and Casino to a BFP order for it to obtain a Fire Safety Inspection Certificate (FSIC) from the BFP.
De Lima's Legal Opinion stated that "there can be no doubt that Solaire Resort and Casino… squarely falls under the authority of PEZA."
"Evidently, the power or authority of PEZA to enforce the provisions of the [Fire Code of the Philippines], and its [IRR], which would necessarily include the authority to conduct fire safety inspection on enterprises duly registered with it as well as those within the zone, cannot be denied.
"BFP cannot compel, much less require [Solaire owner Sureste Properties, Inc.], SPI to comply with the requirement of securing FSIC from it," De Lima's Legal Opinion read.
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