Four years after tragedy, damage suit drags on
There was no fanfare in Cebu for the fourth year anniversary of the sinking of the Princess of the Stars which claimed 820 lives.
Most of the cases filed against ship owner Sulpicio Lines Inc. have barely moved.
The plaintiff in the civil suit for damages presented at least one witness so far before Regional Trial Court Judge Soliver Peras of Branch 10 where the consolidated cases against the shipping line were filed.
Persida Acosta, chief of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), said Judge Peras is set to conduct an occular inspection in Romblon where the ship sank at th height of typhoon Frank in June 21, 2008.
Acosta said government lawyers assisting families of victims to identify remains and seek damages, as well as the PAO “pray to the courts and high heavens that the courts in Cebu and Manila expedite the resolution of the damages suit.”
Around 560 cadavers were recovered from the sunken ship.
Acosta told Cebu Daily News the PAO Forensic Laboratory identified 11 skeletal remains taken from the ship.
Of the number, seven were turned over to their families.
Acosta said PAO recently identified the remains of 42-year-old Joselito Aballe, whose remains were turned over in a simple ceremony to the daughters of Joselito in Cebu City.
Acosta said the PAO Forensic Team will proceed to Sibuyan Island to process, analyze and identify the recovered body.
Efforts of the laboratory are focused on the biological profiling of the skeletal remains recovered from the sunken M/V Princess of the Stars.
Through the efforts of the PAO Forensic Team, the Philippine Coast Guard and the private salvor, the skeletal remains in the laboratory have reached more than 140, Acosta said.
She said PAO needs access to the victims’ ante mortem data which is under the custody of Dr. Renato Bautista, head of the Disaster Victim Identification team of the National Bureau of Investigation which did extensive work in Cebu with the Interpol to identify cadavers brought here.
Judge Peras earlier ordered the arrest of Baustista for his failure to heed the court order to turn over documents needed by PAO.
But Acosta said Dr. Baustista continues to defy the court order.
Bautista, in an earlier interview, denied that he was withholding the documents and said he was willing to give them to the PAO but said the victims’ data remain “confidential” as agreed upon by the NBI and Interpol.
PAO has been seeking the transfer of the documents from the NBI to help identify the human remains that will undergo an anthropological examination by a University of the Philippines based forensics group.
Retired ship captain Amado Romillo, an expert witness presented by the prosecution, insists that MV Princess of the Stars took an “extremely dangerous” route from the Manila port to Cebu City at the height of typhoon Frank in 2008.
Instead of passing through the west side of Mindoro, Romillo said the sunken ship made its regular route where the eye of the typhoon was situated when it sank on June 21, 2008.
Acosta said the skipper’s testimonies proved that there was negligence on the part of ship officials who decided to travel despite an impending typhoon.
Using a nautical chart or map, Romillo explained to the court the route of the MV Princess of the Stars when it left the Manila North Harbor on June 20, 2008.
The MV Princess of the Stars capsized off Romblon enroute to Cebu City with 820 people on board.
Only 32 survived.
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