Ozone fire – In the end, we all pay

27 March 1996

Isyu 27 Mar 96

I have seen many kinds of grief. The worst is a parent’s grief for a dead child. Children are supposed to survive and bury their parents, not the other way around. And when the death of the child is by fire, as in the Ozone disaster, the grief is even more devastating. Wala nang sasakit pa. Patay na nga ang anak mo, ni hindi mo mahanap. Mahanap mo man, ni hindi mo mayakap, ni hindi mo matingnan; hanggang litrato ka na lang o mahihibang ka sa galit at hingapis.

Sino ang dapat magbayad? Legally and morally, the parents of every victim, both the dead and those fighting for their lives, deserve substantial compensation. Hindi lang yung ibinibigay na P15,000 ng Quezon City Hall, at yung iminumungkahi ng isang senador na P50,000 from the national government, at yung sinasabi ng Ozone management na itutulong nila sa “expenses” ng mga  biktima – kundi mahigit pa.

Remember when Judge Harriet Demetriou ruled on the Eileen Sarmenta-Alan Gomez rape-slaying? Besides going to jail, Antonio Sanchez et al. had to pay both families moral, emotional and future damages, which added up to a few millions each. Parents of Ozone victims deserve as much, if not more, dahil mas matindi ang damages na dulot ng pagkakasunog ng mga bata at ng pahirapang paghahanap nila at pagkilala sa mga ito.

Government could have made it easier on the victims’ parents but they didn’t. While it made sense to allow different funeral homes to haul off their share of dead bodies, government should have stayed on top of things and looked out for the interests of the victims and their families. Specifically, government should have taken on all hospital and / or funeral expenses of victims; and early on, steps should have been taken to stay the decay of bodies waiting to be identified.

Samantala, habang hindi pa malinaw kung magkano talaga ang liabilities ng mga magbabayad, some government agency (the Bangko Sentral?) should already be advancing a basic amount of, say, P50,000 to P100,000 to each victim’s family. It would ease all financial stress brought on by the unexpected death/s and buy the poor parents the time and the space they need to mourn in peace and come to terms with their loss.

Sino-sino ang magbabayad?

Tatlong grupo sila. The owners of Ozone, the city government, and the national government.

There’s no question in my mind, the capitalists of Ozone Disco, all five of them who profited from its operations, must pay. Hermilo Ocampo, who speaks in their behalf, wants us to believe that the fire was an act of God, that the sparks were sparks out of the blue and had nothing to do with electrical cables and octopus connections. Well, this is the same man who’s asking us to see a fire exit where there’s none, except on paper and in his imagination.

In fact, Ocampo is known in the night-spot business as a light-and-sound systems contractor. In fact, ozone was his showcase of the latest in disco lights and sounds It was doing so well, it could afford to offer 50 percent discounts on drinks every Monday. He must have known what he was doing – I’m sure he’s not dumb, he went to Ateneo – he must have known what might happen if he didn’t avoid octopus and haphazard connections, and if he didn’t conduct regular inspections of that flammable ceiling of high-tech light contraptions to make sure it was rat-free and the wires well-insulated. He must have known.

I guess he didn’t care. Maybe he got greedy, wouldn’t spare the money dahil makakabawas sa kita nilang magpapa-partner? Maybe they just kept putting it off? O baka naman dahil naglalagay sila sa sons of City Hall, akala nila they were protected as well from electrical overloads and combustible customers as from government inspectors. Whatever it was, it was the height of stupidity and irresponsibility. Ocampo, well-educated son of a former Nueva Ecija congressman, and his capitalist cohorts should have known better.

All businessmen who are under the thumb of protection syndicates should know better. Kung naglalagay kayo sa City Hall dahil takot kayong pumalag o mag-ingay, problema niyo na yan. Wag niyong bawiin ang gastos by scrimping on safety maintenance costs and endangering lives. You have to deserve your customers.

Taxpayers’ blues

The city government, obviously, must also pay because it allowed Ozone to operate even if the disco violated building and fire codes. Balita ng Evening Paper, “. . . concerned operatives of the Central Police District blamed (the Ozone fire on) two sons of a ranking Quezon City official who they claimed were intimately involved in the well-entrenched protection business victimizing fun houses and disco pubs in the city. The executive’s sons reportedly rake in an estimated P2 million a month from unscrupulous pub owners. (March 21, by Romeo Roy and Eunel Abasola)

The national government must also pay because the Quezon City scenario described above is true for many other places. Sabi nga ni Neal Cruz, “. . . it is well-known among builders and businessmen that almost any permit can be obtained from any city engineer’s office in Metro Manila even if legal requirements are not met, if the price is right.” (Inquirer March 22)

Clearly it’s a failure of law enforcement, which is a failure of the Executive Department, from the Office of the Mayor up to the Office of the President. The buck goes all the way up.

In the final analysis, we all pay. Saan ba kasi manggagaling ang ipambabayad ng city and national government sa Ozone victims, e di from taxpayers’ money. As usual, it’s the citizens, the electorate, who end up paying.

This is democracy? This is democracy. We pay for the mistake of electing the wrong people to public office. We pay for trusting the wrong people with our lives.

Next time, in 1998, let’s choose well. Let’s look for brave men and women who would dare dismantle protection syndicates, among other immoral arrangements, and usher in a new moral order in Filipino society. Then maybe those poor children did not die, do no suffer, in vain.

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