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PROPERTY RULES

In retrospect: The Ozone Disco tragedy

/ 05:06 AM October 13, 2018

I needed to get out. That’s all I kept thinking. If I died, at least people would be able to identify me.”

In an interview with Esquire Magazine, Sherilyn Bruan reminisced on the fire that razed Ozone Disco to the ground on March 18, 1996. The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) described this tragedy, which killed 162 club goers, as the worst fire incident in the National Capital Region and the seventh worst fire incident in the world.

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“I heard noises,” said Bruan, who suffered second-degree burns on her arms, back and hands because of the incident. “The stampede. The events came back to you. The people who were left behind. There were a lot of sleepless nights. You start thinking about what happened to you. You got burned.”

The Ozone Disco tragedy was one among the numerous fire incidents that have occurred during the month of March, touted as the Fire Prevention Month under former President Ferdinand Marcos’ Proclamation No. 115-A.

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According to the BFP, the number of fire incidents in 2017 reached 14,197, 12.3 percent of which occurred during the Fire Prevention Month, incurring damages amounting to P7.86 billion and claiming the lives of 304 civilians. Out of the 14,197 fire incidents, 7,886 were structural in nature, while 5,313 and 998 were non-structural and vehicular, respectively.

In its decision, the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 216 convicted Hermilo Ocampo and Ramon Ng, the president and treasurer, respectively, of Westwood Entertainment, who supervised Ozone Disco’s daily operations, of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and multiple serious physical injuries, with a penalty of imprisonment for four years and fine of more than P25 million, upon finding that:

they failed to install water sprinklers and provide fire exits inside the establishment;

Ozone Disco only had a lone entrance door swinging inward, supposedly for prosperity in accordance to the feng shui practices; and

350 customers and 40 employees were allowed to occupy the establishment, whose use was approved for only 35 people.

Westwood Entertainment’s stockholders and directors were also liable to pay P150,000 to each casualty’s heirs and P100,000 to each injured victim.

“As a former employee of the club, I really pin the blame on the owners,” Gerald Loyola, a former waiter at Ozone Disco and another survivor, said in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “It would not have happened if they were not remiss in their responsibilities.”

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Meanwhile, the liability of Westwood Entertainment’s Ocampo and Ng, and its stockholders and directors may be grounded on the legal principle of res ipsa loquitur, which literally means, “the transaction speaks for itself.”

In Spouses Africa v. Caltex (Phils.), Inc., the Supreme Court held that under said principle, “Where the thing which caused the injury complained of is shown to be under the management of defendant or his servants and the accident is such as in the ordinary course of things does not happen if those who have its management or control use proper care, it affords reasonable evidence, in absence of explanation by defendant, that the accident arose from want of care.”

In this case, such liability arose when Ocampo and Ng failed to implement measures aimed at fire prevention, protection, and suppression in accordance with the Fire Code of the Philippines and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR). The Fire Code and its IRR prohibit, among others:

overcrowding or admission of persons beyond the authorized capacity in movie houses, theaters, coliseums, auditoriums or other public assembly buildings;

locking fire exits when people are inside the building; and

use of jumpers or tampering with electrical wiring or overloading the electrical system beyond its designated capacity or such other practices that would tend to undermine the fire safety features of the electrical system.

Moreover, Ocampo and Ng, and said stockholders and directors failed to implement fire protection and suppression measures specified under the Fire Code and its IRR, such as, but not limited to:

supervised sprinkler systems, which shall be installed in accordance with Section 10.2.6.5 of the IRR and/or other internationally accepted standards;

water supplies capable of delivering the total demand of sprinklers, hose streams, foam, and other chemical systems in accordance with Sections 10.2.6.5 and 10.2.6.6. of the IRR;

early detection and notification system in case of fire and explosion;

fire exits whose egress capacity width is determinable based on the clear width of the doorway when the door is in the full open position; and screen and storm doors which should swing with the exit travel.

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