Ship victims' kin appeal SC ruling

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Monday, August 11, 2014


FAMILIES of victims of ill-fated MV Princess of the Stars urged the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday to reconsider its decision to only recommend the slapping of a civil case against an official of Sulpicio Lines Inc.

Appealing through the Public Attorney's Office (PAO), the families said the SC Second Division committed a "glaring error" for overlooking SLI vice president for administration Edgar Go's liability for reckless imprudence under Article 365 of the Revised Penal Code.

According to the SC, Go could not be criminally charged for not instructing the Cebu-bound vessel to seek shelter or drop anchor at the height of Typhoon Frank (international name: Fengshen) on June 21, 2008.

The Court said the shipowner's liability for the death caused by the captain's error arises from the contract of carriage, a binding agreement that outlines the obligations and rights of Sulpicio and the passengers.

"Sure, the shipowner is civilly liable; but, we hereby submit that when there is a clear showing that such shipowner has committed an act or omission constitutive of a criminal offense, it would be a grave injustice on the part of the injured parties if the shipowner is outrightly cleared of criminal liability," the motion for reconsideration stated.

"In fact, the whole essence of the petition centers on the crime of reckless imprudence. To overlook the said provision is to sidestep the very substance of the case," it added.

The PAO said Go should have done "everything in his power" to avert the impending disaster but as the SC noted, he allowed the vessel to sail to a place where it will meet the eye of the typhoon at Sibuyan Island, leaving 227 people dead and 592 missing.

"Go never acted surprised or alarmed upon being informed that the M/V Princess of the Stars was taking the regular route. It was not news to him that the Stars was not supposed to be in the regular route. This fact alone blatantly shows foreknowledge of accused Go that captain Florencio Marimon never intended to take the Stars through the alternate route but was merely a ruse to obtain a departure clearance from the Philippine Coast Guard," the motion read.

While Marimon was in control of the ship, the PAO said his "overriding authority" is limited to three instances: to bring the ship to safety, to prevent pollution and respond to ships in distress.

"This is not the case in the Stars. Ergo, to exonerate the owners of the said vessel, like respondent Go, from liability...under the guise of the master's 'overriding authority' is contrary to established jurisprudence mandating extraordinary diligence of common carriers," PAO said, as it asked the SC to elevate the case, "a matter of paramount national interest," to the 15-member en banc.

Go was already undergoing trial at the Manila Regional Trial Court branch 5 when the Court of Appeals (CA) reversed in March last year the Department of Justice's (DOJ) finding of probable cause against him.

The public lawyers said nine witnesses were already presented to prove that Go must be sent to jail and compensate the victims of the tragedy.

PAO also said the appellate court practically overturned the finding of probable cause of the judge and "disturbed the final disposition of the latter, although it has no jurisdiction to do so."

"Although what is being determined is mere probable cause, the Court of Appeals somehow demanded for proof beyond reasonable doubt, which should have been best addressed in a full-blown trial," it said. (Sunnex)

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