Del Monte, Sulpicio told not to pay P25M-A A +A
Sunday, July 22, 2012
THE Court of Appeals (CA) has stopped the Manila regional trial court from proceeding with the implementation of its orders for Del Monte Philippines and Sulpicio Lines Inc. (SLI) to shell out P25-million each for the reshipment and disposal of some 10,000 kilos of endosulfan cargo retrieved from the ill-fated M/V Princess of the Stars passenger-cargo vessel that sank off Romblon in June 2008.
The ship, owned by SLI (now known as Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation), capsized at the height of typhoon “Frank” last June 21, wherein some 862 people composed of passengers, crews and auxiliaries were onboard.
It’s sinking was considered one of the worst maritime disasters in the country because of the number of casualties as well as the environmental impact of the hazardous endosulfan, a chemical used as fertilizer for pineapple plantations of Del Monte.
In a 14-page decision penned by Associate Justice Edwin Sorongon, the CA’s Eighth Division affirmed the December 3, 2008 ruling of Manila RTC Judge Antonio Eugenio (now a deputy court administrator of the Supreme Court), which ruled that the matter of expenses on the storage, repacking, transfer and other incidental costs of the endosulfan cargo will be borne by both Sulpicio and Del Monte.
The appellate court, however, annulled and set aside the trial court’s April 6 and November 3, 2010 Orders granting the motion of the Office of the Solicitor General for a P25-million deposit each from SLI and Del Monte to answer for the repacking and reshipment of the cargo retrieved from the capsized ship.
The OSG was representing the Presidential Task Force on the retrieval of the toxic substances in the sunken ship.
The Manila RTC was ordered to determine the procedure to be undertaken for the disposition of the endosulfan cargo, placed in 400 boxes inside a 40-foot container van, with a declared value of P3,698,000.
“Accordingly, the (RTC) is directed to take control of the disposition of the subject endosulfan cargo by setting a hearing among the Task Force, SLI and Del Monte to determine the procedure to be undertaken for its repacking, reshipment and disposal, as well as for SLI and Del Monte to agree on which entity will provide such services and the terms and conditions thereof,” the CA ruled.
Likewise, the parties were directed by the CA to submit to the Manila court within 15 days their respective proposals for the proper disposition of the endosulfan cargo together with an estimate of fees or quotations from the service providers of their choice.
The Task Force was directed to submit to the RTC within 15 days, with copies furnished SLI and Del Monte, contracts it executed with certain service providers, evidence of services actually rendered by each, and the reasonable amount charged by them, taking into consideration the prevailing costs charged.
SLI and Del Monte were also given 10 days from receipt of the Task Force’s submission to file their respective comments, after which the trial court is directed to determine the reasonable fees due to the service providers.
The CA held that the Manila court committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing the assailed orders, considering that the Task Force is not a party to the case to whom relief may be accorded.
It noted that the Task Force, on its own initiative, contracted the services of a TSD (treatment/storage/disposal) facility of its own choice, instead of awaiting further directive from the court.
“The Task Force is neither a plaintiff nor a defendant in the case a quo. In fact, it was merely directed by the court a quo to act on its behalf and take delivery of the endosulfan cargo. Hence, it could only act upon the directives of the court but it is the latter which must set forth the procedures on what should be done to the cargo after the Task Force took delivery thereof,” the CA said.
Records showed that after salvage operations have been completed by SLI, it then filed a motion in court to turn over the toxic cargo to the government, to which del Monte interposed no objection.
On October 10, 2008, the OSG filed a motion urging the RTC to indicate the entity that will shoulder the expenses to be incurred for the transfer, storage, repacking and return to the place of origin of the endosulfan, and other related expenses. It likewise asked the court to deputize and commission an TSD facility for hazardous waste accredited by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) for the storage of the endosulfan until its reshipment.
Acting on the OSG’s motion, the RTC issued its first assailed order on December 3, 2008 directing SLI and Del Monte to defray the transshipment cost. However, it did not make any pronouncement as to the delegation of a TSD facility for its storage.
The trial court subsequently also granted the OSG’s motion to compel SLI and Del Monte to deposit P25-million each, or a total of P50-million for this undertaking in its assailed April 6, 2010 Order.
The private parties’ respective motions for reconsideration on this ruling were denied by the RTC in its November 3, 2010 resolution, prompting them to file separate petitions before the appellate court. (ECV/Sunnex)