Stampede probers find lapses in security setup
Gonzalez: Someone will answer for 74 deaths
First posted 01:07am (Mla time) Feb 06, 2006
By Leila B. Salaverria, Luige A. del Puerto
JUSTICE SECRETARY Raul Gonzalez said yesterday someone should answer for the deaths of 74 people in a game show stampede, and the head of an inquiry panel said he found "shortcomings" in the security preparations for the event.
"There will be responsibility. There will definitely be people responsible," Gonzalez said in a phone interview. "That's why the order of the President is to find criminal or civil liabilities."
Gonzalez, however, refused to pinpoint any specific person or organization that might be culpable for the disastrous stampede last Saturday outside the PhilSports Arena (formerly Ultra) in Pasig City. About 500 people were injured in crush of fans struggling to get in to watch the anniversary celebration of the popular ABS-CBN game show "Wowowee."
"If I will say something, it will prejudge the outcome of the investigation. That is not fair to everybody," Gonzalez said.
According to Gonzalez, the issue would not necessarily end with the release of monetary assistance to the victims and their families.
"It's not just a question of giving financial help. The damage caused may be more than what you are willing to offer," he said.
Even in cases of negligence and accidents, responsibility has to fall on someone, he pointed out.
"If you pass under a house and a flower pot falls on your head, there is responsibility on the owner of the house," he said.
People who unintentionally kill someone by accident or through a careless act could be liable to charges of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, according to Gonzalez.
Crowds estimated between 30,000 and 50,000 people had massed up outside the PhilSports Arena when the stampede broke out.
Most of them had come from depressed areas in Metro Manila and nearby provinces and had hoped to win raffle tickets that would entitle them to about P2.5 million in prizes.
At yesterday's initial hearing on the incident, members of a government fact-finding team said the decision to tell the thousands of people waiting outside the PhilSports Arena that they could not all be accommodated inside might have triggered the stampede.
The probe team said the PhilSports Arena had a total seating capacity of between 17,000 and 19,000. This includes the 9,000 capacity of its covered portion and the 8,000 capacity of the bleachers outside. An unused section of the bleachers can accommodate another 2,000.
The stampede occurred at one of the two entrances.
Steering away from the issue of culpability for the tragedy, members of the probe body said after the hearing that there appeared to be shortcomings in security preparations.
"What we will say are the facts that we gathered," Interior Undersecretary and panel chair Marius Corpus told the Inquirer. "Definitely, may mga pagkukulang (there were shortcomings)."
"I don't know how you would call them -- oversights or lapses," he said. "There was no proper coordination with the police, there was no contingency plan for crowd management, there was even no radio contact (with the police) so that these things could have been avoided."
But Corpus clarified the probe was merely fact-finding in nature and would not delve into criminal liability, saying that was up to the Department of Justice.
Another panel member echoed Corpus' observations about supposed security shortcomings.
"It appears to be that way," said Frank Castillo of the Office of Civil Defense. "There should be a contingency plan, especially for events (that involved) a big number of people."
He said the organizers, for one, had assumed that the police had responsibility outside of the barriers they had erected.
But Castillo said such "taskings have to be clear."
Invited to yesterday's hearing were Rene Luspo, the ABS-CBN head security, and Marilou Almaden, program manager of "Wowowee."
Earlier, panel members inspected the PhilSports Arena and spoke with its security officials.
The panel focused on security arrangements for the game show.
In particular, it raised questions on whether the security officers of ABS-CBN and the management of the Philippine Sports Commission had contingency plans for crowd control.
"The main focus of our concern is crowd control," Luspo told the panel. He said ABS-CBN had plans for crowd control but they were not put in writing.
He said the security planning took into account that the PhilSports Arena had only "two logical entrances."
"We assumed that we will be dealing with ... about 25,000. That's the assumption we used," Luspo said.
"Our focus in the planning was how to really manage the crowd before we can get (them) into the bleachers and the covered facility."
"When we made a plan, we took into consideration that there are going to be two entrances ... The focus -- any security person will bear me out -- ... one will focus on putting more resources where it is deemed weak, and not where (it is) deemed inherently strong."
Police not told
Corpus said that when the decision was reached to tell the crowd that not all could be let in, the organizers did not tell the police about it.
"If assurances were made that many of them could still be accommodated, that pressure (to get inside) could have been lessened," said Chief Superintendent Oscar Valenzuela, head of the Eastern Police District and member of the probe body.
"Looking from the crowd's point of view, those who felt they could no longer enter would try something to get in," he said.
The motive to get inside -- earning quick cash -- was there, according to Valenzuela.
Luspo told the panel that while it was true that they did not have a written security plan, he disagreed that security plans should be put in writing all the time.
Security plans flexible
Otherwise, he would end up "simply writing," he said.
The plans were "flexible," he said, and their decisions depended upon the situation on the ground, and the situation kept changing.
"Almost every day we (had) to meet and discuss the changes in the situation, and this was the reason why we made changes in plans," he said.
It was the "spillover crowd," many of whom were men, in front of the gate that went unruly and started to push forward, he said.
Luspo admitted that things could have been done to avoid the tragedy.
"I don't think there is a dispute about that," he said. "We can talk about what we could have done, we recognize that. But we did what we thought was best at the time."
Willie and Charo
He added: "We could have done more, but at that point ... we thought it was adequate and (we had) talked to the right people."
The probe panel invited top ABS-CBN executive Charo Santos-Concio and comedian Willie Revillame to the hearing, but their lawyer said the two personalities did not have direct participation in the planning of the noontime show.
Santos-Concio and Revillame were inside the DILG building during the inquiry, but the ABS-CBN counsel, Regis Puno, did not present them.
"Considering that Charo Santos and (Revillame) have absolutely no participation other than just prescribed (as TV executive and talent, respectively), I seek the indulgence of the committee to dispense with their attendance," Puno told the probe body.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday assured families of the victims that justice would be served.
She ordered various agencies to make sure that assistance would not only be provided the kin of the victims but also that measures were undertaken to prevent a repeat of the incident.
"I assure the victims' kin that the ends of criminal and social justice will be served and those responsible will be taken account for their negligence or misdeeds," Ms Arroyo said.
With a report from Christine O. Avendao