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Ex-QC execs face up to 10 years in prison for Ozone Disco tragedy

(UPDATED 8:01 p.m.) The Sandiganbayan Fifth Division on Thursday found seven former officials of the Quezon City engineer's office and two private individuals guilty of graft in connection with the deadly fire at the Ozone Disco Club on March 19, 1996, 18 years after the tragedy claimed 162 lives. 

They were sentenced to six to 10 years in jail.
Convicted of graft and corrupt practices are:
  • City Engineer Alfredo Macapugay
  • Former City Engineer Renato Rivera Jr.  
  • Building Inspector Edgardo Reyes
  • Chief, Enforcement and Inspection Division, Francisco Itliong
  • Chief, Processing Division, Feliciano Sagana
  • Engineer Petronillo De Llamas
  • Building Inspector Rolando Mamaid

Private respondents Hermilo Ocampo and Ramon Ng, members of the board of directors and stockholders of Westwood Entertainment Co. Inc. which managed the Ozone disco, were also found guilty of similar charges.
In a decision penned by Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta, the court said that the officials had been remiss in approving the building permit of the disco bar. 

Despite having faults in the design and defects in the electrical and safety systems, the authorities still issued two building permits and a certificate of occupancy to the disco, a report on 24 Oras that aired on Thursday said. 
"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 decision said.

According to the report, the fire broke out from an overloaded circuit from the disc jockey's booth. The victims, who were mostly celebrating their graduation, were trapped inside Ozone Disco because there were no emergency exits. Everyone ran to the entrance door, which opened inward instead of the other way.
Quezon City Administrator Aldrin Cuña said Macapugay, Sagana, and Itliong had already retired, Mamaid was on a medical leave, Rivera was in the private sector, and Reyes had transferred to the Manila City Hall. 

De Llamas wasn't at his office when a team from GMA News dropped by. The team was also trying to contact Ocampo and Ng for comment but they had yet to respond.
Those convited were given 15 days to file a motion for reconsideration. 
The Sandiganbayan in 2007 acquitted Macapugay of criminal liability in the same case.

The Sandiganbayan Third Division at that time said the court was unconvinced about the culpability of Macapugay, whose office was mandated at the time of the inferno to ensure the enforcement of building safety regulations.

The Sandiganbayan ruled then that prosecutors failed to prove that Macapugay was guilty of reckless imprudence resulting to multiple homicide and multiple physical injuries for alleged negligence in verifying the safety of the plans and facilities of the Ozone Disco.

Stricter rules
The city administrator said that even before the Sandiganbayan released its decision, Quezon City had already imposed stricter rules in issuing building permits. Issuing the permits was now the task of the Office of the Building Official, instead of the Office of the City Engineer as before.
Cuña also said that city officials regularly inspected buildings to make sure rules and regulations were being followed.
"Lahat naman ng nakatayong buildings dito sa Quezon City must submit for annual inspection. That is also required by the National Building Code to make sure they are structurally safe, (and) they comply with the provisions ng ating Fire Code of the Philippines," Cuña said. — with reports by Trisha Macas/KG/NB, GMA News