Manila judge pauses in executing award to Princess of Stars victims after inhibition plea
MANILA, Philippines — The Manila regional trial court has decided not to immediately resolve the request of the Public Attorney’s Office’s to execute the Sept. 18, 2014 civil case decision awarding damages to survivors and families of victims of the M/V Princess of the Stars tragedy.
The judge handling the case, Daniel Villanueva of RTC Branch 49, also did not comment on the Court of Appeals Dec. 18, 2015 final ruling that ordered him to inhibit from the case after the lawyers of the defendants—Sulpicio Lines Inc. and members of the Go family—accused him of bad faith and bias.
PAO chief Persida Acosta said she told the judge he did not need to follow the inhibition order because there were “good reasons” to finish the case and the appellate court did not issue a stay order against the proceedings.
Villanueva set the next hearing on March 1 after giving the defense 15 days to file a position paper explaining an opposition to PAO’s two motions for execution. PAO was was given an option to respond.
Last Monday, the PAO questioned the decision of the Court of Appeals special 16th division before the Supreme Court. Acosta said the order for Villanueva’s inhibition at the end stage of the trial proceedings was “undoubtedly antithetical to the speedy administration of justice; worse, it is highly prejudicial to the victims of the tragedy as it intends to abort the execution proceedings.”
“This is the first time I encounter that a judge is being ordered to inhibit after he already issued his decision on a case. The Court of Appeals ruling on the inhibition is already moot and academic as the judge’s decision is already final and executory as Sulpicio did not appeal it,” Acosta had told reporters.
The execution of the decision became an issue after Sulpicio and Go family lawyers claimed it was not yet final as they had elevated the case to the Court of Appeals.
However, the PAO, which has been representing 71 complainants, said Sulpicio and the Gos filed an invalid appeal as they failed to pay the docket fees for the 71 suits they had brought to the appeals court.
PAO filed last Dec. 8 an omnibus motion to dismiss the defendants’ notice of appeal and to execute the decision.
In Wednesday’s RTC hearing, however, defense lawyer Ma. Victoria Lim-Florido pointed out that PAO also filed last Nov. 27 a “motion for execution pending appeal based on good reasons.”
Florido said the Dec. 8 motion contradicted the one dated Nov. 27 as the latter recognized that the respondents were able to appeal the RTC’s decision. She said the PAO should decide which motion would stand.
Acosta countered that the two motions were not opposed to each other. She said PAO stood by the two motions and was leaving their resolution to the judge’s discretion.
“Plaintiffs cannot put themselves in the shoes of the the judge. Why prolong the agony [when] the court can exercise its discretion? We will not let [allow] delay; the people of the Philippines are clamoring for the fast resolution of these cases,” she said, opposing a proposal from Florido that PAO submit a position paper explaining its stand on the two motions.
Villanueva still allowed the submission of the position paper to put the parties’ positions into writing and allow the court to study the issue.
The RTC earlier ordered Sulpicio—now known as Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp.—to pay around P241 million in damages to 64 of the 71 plaintiffs for negligence in allowing the Princess to set sail to Manila despite the weather bulletin showing the route will be in a typhoon’s path.
The ship capsized on June 21, 2008 off Sibuyan Island in Romblon, killing more than 800 passengers and crew, most of whose remains were never recovered.
In January last year, the Maritime Industry Authority cancelled the certificate of public conveyance issued to Sulpicio. The company’s ships are now limited to carrying cargo. SFM
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