Ozone victims: Where’s the money?
MANILA, Philippines–More than 13 years after the owners of Ozone Disco were found guilty of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and multiple serious injuries, the victims have yet to receive in full the damages awarded to them by a Quezon City court.
Justice for Ozone Victims (JOV) Foundation Inc. president Joseph Stephen Santos said that the club operator, Westwood Entertainment, had already declared bankruptcy, making it unlikely the victims would be further compensated.
In March 2001, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Ofelia Marquez convicted Westwood president Hermilo Ocampo and treasurer Ramon Ng in connection with the March 18, 1996, Ozone Disco fire that killed 162 people and injured more than 90 others.
They were sentenced to four years in prison and fined more than P25 million each. Westwood was also ordered by the court to pay P150,000 to the relatives of those who died and P100,000 to each of the injured.
“[But] it fell to us to look for their properties and chase after them,” Santos said in an interview with the Inquirer on Friday evening as the victims’ families lit candles and prayed the rosary at the previous site of the club on Timog Avenue in Quezon City. Santos lost a 24-year-old cousin in the fire.
Last Thursday, the Sandiganbayan sentenced to imprisonment of up to 10 years Ocampo, Ng, former Quezon City engineer Alfredo Macapugay and six of his subordinates for graft.
The city officials, in particular, were found guilty of giving “unwarranted and preferential advantage” to owners of the disco and for failing to detect structural and fire safety deficiencies in the establishment.
“We got around P4 million from the Ozone insurance… and that had to be divided among those who filed the complaint depending on their expenses for burial and hospitalization,” Santos said.
He added that the biggest amount received by the families of those who were killed was P20,000 each. “There was one survivor who lost an ear and received [only] P2,000,” Santos recalled.
With Westwood’s declaration of bankruptcy, victims are at a loss on how they can receive the damages due them, he said.
Santos, however, clarified that the foundation was more interested in getting the people they charged in court convicted.
“[The Sandiganbayan decision] is a precedent. This is the first time that government officials were convicted for this case which is very rare. Now [crooked] establishment owners and government officials will think twice,” he said.
According to him, they have asked the Quezon City government to suspend two of the convicted respondents (Engineers Rolando Mamaid and Petronillo de Llamas) who continue to work at city hall. “We want them punished because it can be a deterrent to others. Otherwise, if they get away scot-free, even with a conviction, that’s half-baked justice,” Santos said.
He pointed out that the government officials who signed permits for Manor Hotel, which left 75 dead when it burned down in 2001 on Kamias Road, Quezon City, were also the ones who approved Ozone’s papers.
The city government earlier said it would wait for instructions from the Sandiganbayan on what action to take against Mamaid and De Llamas.
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