Victims’ kin question SC ruling on Sulpicio Lines
MANILA, Philippines–The families of some victims in the sinking of the MV Princess of the Stars on Monday asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision absolving the vessel’s owner of criminal liability in the 2008 tragedy that claimed more than 800 lives.
In a 30-page omnibus motion on behalf of the families, the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) maintained that Edgar Go had knowledge that the vessel was traversing its regular route and was “going eye to eye to Typhoon ‘Frank,’ even with the declaration by the Master (ship captain) of an alternate route to the Philippine Coast Guard.”
Aside from being the owner of Sulpicio Lines Inc. (SLI), Go also acted the shipping firm’s first vice president for administration. The Cebu City-based company changed its name to Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. in 2008.
According to the PAO, Go “never acted surprised or alarmed” that the Princess was taking the regular route that led to the typhoon.
“It was not news to him that the Princess was not supposed to be in the regular route. This fact alone blatantly shows foreknowledge of accused Go that Capt. Florencio Marimon Sr. never intended to get the Princess through the alternate route but was merely a ruse to obtain departure from the PCG,” the pleading stated.
The PAO said that since it was clear that Marimon intended to navigate the ship toward the typhoon, Go and other SLI officials should have done something.
“[I]f it becomes apparent that the Master’s course of action would be disastrous, wouldn’t it, in fact, become the bounden duty of such owner, operator or shipping company to do everything in his/its power to avert impending disaster?” the agency asked.
PAO head Persida Acosta told reporters that six years after the disaster, 400 passengers were still missing and their remains still have to be recovered. She said “retrieval operations” for the remains were still ongoing.
The PAO filed the motion on behalf of Purita Hibe, Nissan Laurel, Estella Geli, Arlene Olang, Josephine Padua, Vicenta Chua, Illuminada Timajo, Lilybeth Cunanan, Elorde Ilustrisimo, Bob Illut, Ernesto Clarin, Evelyn Bajet, Larina Matriz, Celerna Calayag and Sonia Manzanilla—all family members of the fatalities in the tragedy.
En banc hearing
The PAO also requested that the case be heard and decided by the court en banc. The motion for reconsideration contained a request to transfer the case from the Third Division to the en banc.
The agency said the case was of paramount national interest, owing to the involvement of many Sulpicio vessels in sea tragedies, the public’s clamor for justice for the victims, the growing concerns about maritime transport safety, and the impact of the ruling on the country’s maritime and criminal laws.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) in June 2009 found probable cause to charge Go with reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide, damage to property and serious physical injury. The case against Go was filed in the Manila Regional Trial Court. He was arraigned in August 2010.
However, the Court of Appeals last year reversed the DOJ’s finding of probable cause. The Supreme Court agreed, saying the “ship owner’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 ship owner, arises from the contract of carries, hence, is civil in nature.”
The PAO, however, said Go may not invoke the captain’s “overriding authority” over the vessel, saying this could only be invoked by the captain against the owner and not vice versa or against third parties.
The agency said that the high court should have relied on the Revised Penal Code, which listed elements of a reckless imprudence, all allegedly applicable to Go’s actions.
The PAO pointed out Marimon was merely an SLI employee, saying, “Ultimately, the SLI is the owner of the vessel and it was the grantee of the certificate of public convenience. Hence, the attendant responsibility to the said privilege pertains to the grantee and not to its employees.”
If Go’s position is sustained by the high court, the PAO warned, this would mean that maritime transport carriers could always escape liability just by invoking the “overriding authority” of the ship captain taking a calculated option in times of severe weather conditions.
“Ergo, to exonerate the owners of the said vessel, like respondent Go, from liability for bringing the ship to a place where no one can survive, except perhaps by luck, under the guise of the Master’s ‘overriding authority,’ is contrary to established jurisprudence mandating extraordinary diligence of common carriers,” the PAO said.
The PAO said Go could no longer challenge the DOJ’s finding of probable cause because he had been arraigned and that defenses were better threshed out in a full-blown trial.
The Court of Appeals should have also desisted from hearing suit since the Manila court had, independent of the DOJ, made a judicial determination of probable cause and had already arraigned Go, who pleaded not guilty.
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