On the night of the 18th of March 1996 hundreds of youthful party-goers saw their lives cut short by a tragedy. Of the estimated 350 patrons merrymaking at the Ozone Disco Nightclub in Quezon City that night, 160 of them would never see their respective families again. The fire that sparked just before midnight razed the building to the ground, taking with it the future of so many youths.
Sometimes tragedies are borne out of freak accidents, completely unintentional and would be pinned on horrible luck. Other times however, a clear culprit can be traced to explain the numerous fatalities. In the case of the Ozone Disco tragedy, the establishment not meeting required safety standards was pointed out as the reason why so many perished in the fire.
The building capacity itself was already problematic, the club was intended to accommodate only 100 persons at most. There were more than 300 patrons plus the in-house staff of 40 employees, that level of overcapacity was a recipe for disaster in the event of an emergency. It was also discovered that only one doorway existed that was used both as an entrance and an exit, even worse was that this doorway swung open inwards. This explains why so many of the people inside struggled to escape: they could barely open the door. The business owners later disclosed during their trial that the design was intentional as it was “good feng shui”.
The court proceedings revealed more irregularities in the building’s architecture, and officials from the local City Engineer’s Office were held accountable for issuing a building permit to an obviously problematic design. Seven Quezon City local government officials were found guilty in 2014 of graft and corruption, it was revealed that they had connived with the business owners to issue the permit. Two board members of the parent company that owned Ozone Disco were also found guilty. All were handed 6-10 year jail sentences, while the ex-public officials were also perpetually barred from government positions.
The verdict was handed down in 2014, 18 years after that fateful night in March. No matter the pace, one could say that justice was achieved in the end. Sadly however, many more “Ozones” have occurred since March of 1996. These are incidences where human lives were lost due to a disregard of proper building codes and legally-mandated work safety standards.
In 2001, 75 perished in a hotel fire also in Quezon City after many of the occupants got trapped inside because of iron grills installed on windows meant to prevent burglaries. These contraptions were clear violations of the National Building Code, which brought back harrowing memories of the Ozone tragedy. In 2015, 72 people were killed in a fire at a footwear factory in Valenzuela City – again blamed on poor safety standards being employed by the owners. The survivors decried working under “sweatshop” conditions, with a cramped work area while receiving no fire evacuation training.
There are many more cases similar to Ozone and the two other tragedies mentioned. Such occurrences should be expected in a country where there is a culture of negligence for individual safety. All developed countries have strict workplace safety procedures and building regulations that are rigorously imposed on private businesses, there are regular site inspections conducted and penalties are imposed swiftly if violations are found.
The problem in the Philippines is that human safety takes a back seat over monetary gain, safety procedures are overlooked if it means maximizing profits. This habit needs to be foregone or else mourning over tragedies like Ozone will be part of our culture too.