What Went Before: Ozone Disco Club
On March 18, 1996, a four-hour blaze gutted the Ozone Disco Club on Timog Avenue in Quezon City, killing at least 160 people and injuring around 90 others, most of them students who were celebrating the end of the school year.
The fire started at the disc jockey’s booth and immediately engulfed the whole place. The Ozone Disco Club was described a “firetrap” because it lacked exit routes, fire extinguishers and warning devices.
On June 5, 1997, the Ombudsman indicted for graft in the Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division the Ozone Disco Club owner Hermilo Ocampo and treasurer Ramon Ng, and officials from the Office of the City Engineer and of the Office of the Building Official led by engineer Alfredo Macapugay.
Others charged for their intentional failure to conduct inspections included former assistant city engineer Donato Rivera Jr., building inspector Edgardo Reyes, inspection division chief Francisco Itliong, engineer Petronio de Llamas, building inspector Rolando Mamaid, processing division chief Feliciano Sagana.
All the accused pleaded not guilty when arraigned on different dates.
On Oct. 4, 1999, Macapugay was charged with reckless imprudence in the Sandiganbayan’s Third Division for his alleged negligence in validating whether the disco and its facilities were safe during its construction and renovation in 1991 and 1992, respectively.
In March 2001, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court found the owner and treasurer guilty of reckless imprudence. Apart from handing down a maximum four-year jail term to Ocampo and Ng, Judge Ophelia Marquez also ordered them and four other board members of the company to pay a fine of over P20 million.
In 2007, the reckless imprudence charge against Macapugay was dismissed by the Sandiganbayan.
In a resolution dated Aug. 16, 2007, the Sandiganbayan Third Division cleared Macapugay, the former city engineer and building official of Quezon City, of criminal charges in connection with the fire.
The Sandiganbayan said the prosecution failed to prove Macapugay’s “authorship” of the crime. It added that there was not enough proof to show he was involved in the granting of permits to the disco without first conducting an inspection of the establishment.
The court also dismissed the claims for damages filed by relatives of the victims against Macapugay.
“The court is not oblivious to the plight of the surviving victims and families of the deceased. But to convict someone who apparently had no hand in the issuance of the subject building permits is anathema to the concept of justice,” read the resolution penned by Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz.
Government lawyers appealed the ruling but in November that year the Sandiganbayan Third Division affirmed its decision acquitting Macapugay, saying the issues raised by government lawyers in their petition asking the court to reconsider its ruling were a rehash of old arguments. Inquirer Research
Sources: Inquirer Archives
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