Survivors still haunted by tragedy
Lehz Ledesma still dreads traveling by boat. When she has to, she goes with a companion or with her family. She also gets scared during brownouts and upon hearing loud thuds.
“You cannot really get over it, even after all these years,” Ledesma said.
Ledesma, 33, was among the surviving passengers of the MV Asia South Korea, which sank around 5 a.m. on Dec. 23, 1999. The ship was on its way to Iloilo City from Cebu City when it hit rock formations 16 km off Bantayan Island in Cebu, creating a hole in the hull.
Fifty-eight people died while 644 other passengers and crew members were rescued.
Ledesma, then a computer programming student of Western Institute of Technology (WIT) in Iloilo City, was among a group of 146 WIT students who went to Cebu for a three-day field trip. She managed to survive with other passengers by staying on a lifeboat for 11 hours. Six WIT students died in the tragedy.
On April 11, 2000, Ledesma and 68 other complainants, including families of four fatalities, filed a civil case seeking P380 million in damages against the Cebu-based Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. On June 6 this year, or more than 13 years after the sinking, the Iloilo Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 28 issued a decision granting P1.38 million to 17 complainants.
Judge Loida Diestro-Maputol ordered Trans-Asia to pay 13 survivors, including Ledesma, P45,000 each in damages and lawyer’s fees, and the families of Dyna dela Cruz, Maria Nenel Montecastro, Paul Vicent Sy and Nancy Guarnes P188,000 to P215,000 in death indemnification, damages and litigation costs.
Maputol said in her 36-page decision that the shipping line “failed to prove observance of extraordinary diligence” in ensuring the safety of the passengers.
Three years earlier, or in March 2010, Judge Ray Alan Drilon of the Bacolod RTC ordered Trans-Asia to pay damages amounting to P4.8 million to relatives of siblings Jumille Marie and Jesselle Nepacena, and Suzette Tio—who died in the sinking.
The case is still pending in the Court of Appeals.
On Jan. 20, 2011, the Bogo, Cebu Regional Trial Court Branch 61 dismissed a charge of reckless imprudence resulting to multiple homicide and physical injuries against ship captain Porfirio Labagday and chief mate Saturnino Flores.
The Iloilo complainants, through their legal counsel Hector Teodosio, appealed the Iloilo RTC ruling on June 18.
“After 13 years and our unforgettable ordeal, we get P45,000?” Ledesma asked. She lamented that the families of the fatalities received only from P188,000 to P200,000. “Is that the value of a person’s life now?” she said.
Trans-Asia said it would abide by the court decision and pay the complainants, but insisted that it was not liable for the sinking of the vessel, blaming instead the strong winds and big waves.
“We exerted all efforts and extraordinary diligence to save the passengers. We are willing to pay the amount stated in the court decision as we do not want this case hanging and want to settle this once and for all,” said the company’s lawyer, Dexter Viñan.
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