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Sandiganbayan affirms conviction of ex-QC officials over Ozone Disco tragedy

The Fifth Division of the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court has affirmed its earlier ruling finding seven former Quezon City officials and two private individuals guilty of graft for the 1996 fire, dubbed the “Ozone Disco Tragedy”, that left 162 people dead.
In an 18-page resolution promulgated on Thursday but made available to the media on Friday, the court denied respective motions for reconsideration for lack of merit.
“After a circumspect examination and review of all postulations made, the questioned decision convicting all accused of the crime charged should only stand,” the resolution penned by Fifth Division member Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoeta, read.
The Fifth Division said the respondents failed to present compelling reasons to convince the court to reverse its November 2014 ruling finding them guilty of violating Section 3 (e) of the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act and sentencing them to a minimum of six years and one month to maximum of ten years of imprisonment.
The convicted former QC officials were Enforcement and Inspection Division chief Francisco Itliong, Processing Division chief Feliciano Sagana, city engineers Alfredo Macapugay, Renato Rivera Jr., and Petronillo De Llamas and building inspectors Edgardo Reyes and Rolando Mamaid.
Also convicted for the same offense were Hermilo Ocampo and Ramon Ng, members of the board of directors of Westwood Entertainment Co. Inc., which managed the Ozone Disco Club.

Court: Bodies a standing testament to safety violations
In its November ruling, which came after 18 years since the gruesome incident, the court said the city officials conspired with each other in granting two building permits and certificate of occupancy to Westwood despite the latter’s failure to comply with fire safety standards.
The court said that investigations established that Ozone Disco had faulty structural design and defects in the electrical and safety systems.
The court said that the establishment had no fire exits and that its swing-in entrance/exit door opens inward instead of the other way around, trapping victims who were rushing to leave the burning club.
“Notably, the pile of dead bodies found at the point of entrance/exit of the main dance floor remains a standing testament to the violation by Ozone Disco Club of the safety requirements on the provision of an exit door,” the court said in its November 20, 2014 ruling.
Dubbed the worst fire incident in Philippine history, the Ozone Disco Tragedy on March 19, 1996 left 162 people charred, most of them graduating college students.
The incident also left 93 people injured, most of them still bear the scars from burns they sustained.
“The bottomline issue which plagued the finding of guilt in this case is the failure of the building officials concerned, despite the misrepresentations made in the applications, to conduct the necessary inspection before and after the issuance of the building permits and Certificate of Occupancy, where the structural deficiencies of the Ozone Disco as well as its electrical and fire safety insufficiencies, were left undetected,” the court said in its new ruling.
The Fifth Division said that while the respondents, in their motions for reconsideration claimed no irregularity in the application and granting of the building and occupancy permits, the court is convinced, based on evidence presented, that a “conspiratorial act” occurred.
“Amidst all the carping made on their conviction, there are factual matters perceptible in the decision which forge together the conclusion that it is the conspiratorial act of all the accused to the crime charged which led to their conviction,” the court said. — Elizabeth Marcelo/JDS, GMA News