THE Sandiganbayan on Thursday convicted seven former Quezon City officials and two private individuals in connection with the Ozone Dance Club fire 18 years ago that killed 162 people, mostly teenagers.
Former city engineers Alfredo Macapugay and Donato Rivera Jr., Engr. Petronilo de Llamas, field Insp. Edgardo Reyes, building Insp. Rolando Mamaid, Enforcement and Inspection Division chief Francisco Itliong and Processing Division chief Feliciano Sagana, as well as Hermilio Ocampo and Ramon Ng, stockholders and directors of Westwood Entertainment Co. that ran the discotheque, were each meted six years to 10 years’ imprisonment.
They were found guilty beyond reasonable doubt for violating the Anti-Graft Law for causing undue injury to the public and giving unwarranted advantage to Westwood.
“The death of 162 persons and the serious burns caused to 93 others is proof that undue injury as caused to these private persons. This is enough proof to constitute the third element of the offense charged,” the anti-graft court’s Fifth Division said.
The former public officials were also perpetually disqualified from holding public office.
“Dubbed as the worst fire in Philippine history, which claimed many young lives and several others, the ash and soot of what remained of the structure once known as the Ozone Dance Club led to questions and subsequent investigations of its structural integrity and fire safety measures,” Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta said.
The 76-page decision was concurred in by division Chairperson Roland Jurado and Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo.
The court said the former city officials gave Westwood building permits without conducting an inspection, which led to their failure to detect Ozone’s structural deficiencies.
“The slapdash approval of the building permits and certificate of occupancy…marked by a lackadaisical screening of the paper requirements . . . marks the building officials’ evident bad faith and manifest partiality to favor applicant, regardless of consequences,” it added.
The court noted that the sorry state of the victims whose bodies piled up at the entrance/exit door proved that building requirements and standards were not followed.
It said the swing-in entrance door also served as exit and the supposed alternative exits that were obstructed by a sofa and an LPG tank only led to a firewall.
“The trapped patrons could not open the door on the verge of panic and rampage,” the ruling read, citing a report by prosecution witness Senior Fire Officer 3 Dante Navea.
“[C]ustomers . . . started to rush out for safety but because the door leading to the dance floor was installed to open or swing inside, the victims were trapped right at the door due to the inability of the door to open in the direction of travel,” it said.
The court also noted that there were irregularities in the application process, compromising the discotheque’s safety features.
“The audacity if Westwood Entertainment Co.Inc. in the construction of Ozone Dance Club by evading compliance with the National Building Code to suit its own business purpose is simply overwhelming,” it said.
Meanwhile, the court acquitted the other respondents—Raquel Ocampo, Rosita Ku, Sunny Ku and Alfredo Chua—“for lack of proof beyond reasonable doubt.”
Renato Diaz’s case was archived pending his arrest as he remains at large.