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Sunday, November 23, 2014

9 Guilty in Ozone Fire

Eighteen years after the tragic Ozone Dance Club fire killed 162 people and injured at least 95 others in Quezon City, the victims and their families finally got the justice they had been longing for.
Yesterday, the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division found guilty of graft seven former Quezon City building officials and two businessmen in connection with the fire.
Found guilty beyond reasonable doubt by the Fifth Division, headed by Chairman Roland Jurado, for violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act 3019) were former Quezon City Engineer Alfredo Macapugay and his subordinates Donato Rivera Jr., officer-in-charge Building Official; field inspector Edgardo Reyes; Assistant Building Official Francisco Itliong; Feliciano Sagana, chief of Processing Division of the Department of Engineering; Engineer Petronillo de Llamas; and building inspector Rolando Mamaid.
Also found guilty were Hermilo Ocampo and Ramon Ng, both stockholders and directors of the Westwood Entertainment Company that operates the Ozone Dance Club.
In a decision, penned by Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez Estoesta and concurred in by Jurado and Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo, the court sentenced them up to 10 years imprisonment.
Another Macapugay subordinate, Renato Diaz, remains at large, the court ordered “the records of his case be sent to the archives” and an alias warrant of arrest issued against him.
The tragic incident started when about 350 guests, mostly graduating high school and college students, and 40 employees filled up the disco club, which was approved to hold only 35 people, on that fateful night of March 18, 1996.
As guests enjoyed the night, smoke started coming out from the disc jockey (DJ) boost of Ozone Dance Club. Then flames started to spread to the mezzanine area at past midnight of March 19, causing the amazed mostly young guests to start celebrating thinking that this was part of the spectacular show for the night.
But the celebration was short lived.
All hell broke loose when someone yelled, “Fire!”
But the only entrance-exit door turned out to have a swing-in door, making it difficult for the panicking guests to go out as everyone was rushing to it. The emergency exit did not help any. It was obstructed by a sofa and a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) tank. The chaos resulted in a stampede.
Many who had attempted to stage an escape died trying, as others were crushed to death when the club’s mezzanine collapsed on them.
Bodies were discovered later, piled up.
The fire spread quickly as it was fueled the acoustic foam insulation.
Relatives of the victims who got wind of the tragedy rushed to the scene, only to find charred bodies littered all over the place.
Hours after the fire, the Ozone disco was a picture of despair. 

“The audacity of Westwood Entertainment Company, Inc. in the construction of Ozone Dance Club by evading compliance with important provisions of the National Building Code to suit its own business purposes is simply overwhelming,” the Fifth Division stressed in its decision.
With the accused building officials choosing ““to condone, if not overlook, obvious violations of the National Building Code,” the court added that “had the violations been averted at the first instance, the magnitude of those who died and those who continue to endure scars that would haunt them for life would not have happened.”
“There can never be a slapdash approval of a building permit and certificate of occupancy. To shrink from this duty will certainly run at risk all safety standards contemplated by the National Building Code,” the Fifth Division stated.
The court, however, acquitted for lack of proof beyond reasonable doubt four other stockholders and directors of Westwood, namely: Racquel Ocampo, Rosita Ku, Sunny Ku, and Alfredo Chua.
“It would also appear from the application of the building permits that it was Hermilo Ocampo and Ramon Ng who took an active part in the renovation of the Ozone Dance Club,” the decision noted.
Under the graft charge, two building permits and one certificate of occupancy were issued to Ozone Dance Club between October, 1991, and March, 1996, even though no inspections were conducted “thereby failing to detect Ozone Dance Club’s structural deficiencies as well as its electrical and fire safety insufficiencies, which directly caused the fire that razed Ozone Dance Club on or about March 19, 1996 that resulted in the loss of lives of at least 162 lives and serious physical injuries to 93 persons.”
The Ozone Dance Club fire is ranked eighth in the list of top 10 deadliest nightclub fires in history, topped by the Coconut Grove Fire in Boston, Massachusetts, on November 28, 1942, which killed 492 people.
In its decision, the court pointed out that “the minimum building requirements and standards as required by the National Building Code were not followed and enforced by the building officials concerned.”
Among which, the court cited that “the swing-in entrance door, already a violation of the National Building Code, also served as the exit door” and that “no other exit door to serve its purpose.”
The court added that “the supposed alternative exit, which was located at the VIP lounge, was actually obstructed by a sofa and an LPG tank, which only led to a firewall.”
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