‘Princess of the Stars’ victims to appeal SC ruling that cleared Sulpicio of liability
LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—All is not lost for the families of the victims of the MV Princess of the Stars tragedy who vowed to appeal a Supreme Court ruling that cleared the owner of the Sulpicio Lines Inc. of criminal liability over the death of about 800 passengers and crew.
Representing the victims’ families, Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Acosta said they have decided to file a motion for reconsideration on Monday and ask the Supreme Court en banc to rectify the decision of the second division.
The Supreme Court Second Division, in its July 2 ruling, affirmed an earlier decision of the Court of Appeals, which found no probable cause to indict Edgar S. Go for reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide, a criminal offense punishable with at least four years of imprisonment.
Go was the owner of the shipping line and acted as the company’s vice president for administration before the company changed its name to Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp.
The Cebu-bound MV Princess of the Star, carrying more than 800 people, sank at the height of typhoon Frank on June 21, 2008 off the coast of Sibuyan island in Romblon.
The Supreme Court ruled that Go’s “act of allowing the officers of the vessel to decide whether to set sail or not, and thereafter, failing to instruct them to seek shelter or drop anchor in the face of the storm, did not render him criminally liable.”
“The shipowner’s liability for the death of or injuries to passengers resulting from the negligence of the ship captain, with or without concurring negligence on the part of the shipowner, arises from the contract of carries, hence, civil in nature,” the decision said.
The Department of Justice in 2009 found a probable cause to charge Go with a criminal offense at the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC). Aside from this, 59 counts of civil case were lodged at Branch 16 of the Cebu RTC and 64 counts of civil case at Branch 49 of the Manila RTC.
“The civil case is still alive,” Acosta said, in a phone interview Thursday.
She also said that the recent Supreme Court ruling that Go’s liability was civil in nature only bolstered the civil cases.
“But still, we are not happy about it. This would only set a bad precedent for cases filed against transportation companies not to take extra caution because they could get away, anyway, by paying off victims with insurance money,” Acosta said.
Levy Samuele, who lost a niece and a cousin when Princess of the Stars sank, said they were saddened by the Supreme Court decision “but the fight keeps on.”
“This is the only case that would have put (a shipping line) owner himself behind bars. Families (of maritime tragedies) are holding on to (the Princess of the Stars) case because as you see, nothing had happened to the (case of) MV Doña Paz,” he rued.
MV Doña Paz, also owned by the Sulpicio Lines, sank on Dec. 20, 1987, in a sea collision with an oil tanker off the coast of Oriental Mindoro, killing more than 4,000.
Samuele said about 60 relatives of the victims from Luzon have scheduled a vigil for Sunday (Aug. 9) in front of the shipping company in Manila
before marching to the Supreme Court on Monday to file their motion.
“Where is justice here if we would allow the owners to walk free?” he asked.
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