One of the most shocking and tragic events that shook the metropolis during the 1990s would be the fire that consumed not only the establishment that was the Ozone Disco Club, but also 162 souls as well as injuring 95 others. It was known at the time as the worst recorded number of deaths in a nightclub. While the event no longer holds that record, that event on the night of March 18, 1996 is one whose spectre still haunts the metropolis and its night club scene.
More than 18 years have passed since the events of March 18, 1996, news came out recently that the Sandiganbayan or the country’s anti-graft court found 7 officials of the Quezon City government guilty of graft due to negligence in their duties in ensuring the safety of the establishment that would have prevented the tragedy in the first place.
Ozone Disco first opened its doors in 1991 by Segio Orgaoow, in the burgeoning commercial area of Timog Avenue-Tomas Morato area. The site used to be a jazz venue called Birdland before it was transformed into a disco club that it became known for.
Ozone Disco attracted many partygoers who have come to frequent it over the years. And the night of March 18 1996 was supposed to be just another night to dance and party, considering that school is almost over and summer vacation, graduation was near for some of the youth who are celebrating there.
The disco was already filled to the brim, already exceeding its supposed capacity of 35 people, (including the staff) but the people there did not seem to mind the crowd. Then at about half past 11 PM, fire broke out from the area of the DJ’s booth.
The fire spread quickly as the mezzanine collapsed shortly thereafter. The club’s main exit has been locked by the guards who thought a riot was taking place. So people tried to find their way out only to discover that the venue only had one fire exit, a small one at that. Worse, the fire exit door swung inward, which is a no-no in the building safety code. As a result, 162 people in this horrific tragedy, many of them died trying to get out through that cramped fire exit. 95 others sustained injuries.
Investigations revealed the establishment committed serious violations like its overcapacity, having only one, small fire exit, not to mention having defective fire hydrants. It was also revealed that the Quezon City government were somehow aware of its deficiencies but still, it gave a certificate of annual inspection.
As a result, the president of Westwood Entertainment, (operator of Ozone Disco) Hermilo Ocampo, and the company treasurer, Ramon Ng, were tried and found guilty by a Quezon City court in 2001 and sentenced to a four-year prison term, and fined 25 million pesos each. They and their co-accused (who were acquitted) were also ordered to pay the families of the deceased 150,000 pesos, and 100,000 pesos to the injured as indemnity.
Quezon City Engineer Alfredo Macapugay was found to be not guilty of criminal liability by the Sandiganbayan in 2007 for his office being remiss in its duties in ensuring Ozone Disco meets the building code standards. However, he and 6 others, as well as Ocampo and Ng, were found guilty of graft by the Sandiganbayan in a decision made on November 20 this year. This means the accused could face up to 10 years in prison.
If anything, the Ozone Disco fire brought about an awareness of building safety and ensuring that every establishment follows such guidelines. While there is still a long way to go as some establishments still do not comply to these standards, there is somewhat an improvement now as others make their way to make their building safety compliant.
While it is nice to know that some form of justice was served, this event also shows the need for a swifter justice proceeding that would of great benefit to the country’s justice system. We cannot let 18 years or more go by with no justice go by if some injustice happens to us or our loved ones. We deserve to have a better justice system.