SC clears Sulpicio exec over ship sinking

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Monday, August 4, 2014

MANILA -- Hope is dimming for victims of sunken M/V Princess of the Stars to hold an official of Sulpicio Lines Inc. (SLI) criminally liable, as the Supreme Court (SC) Second Division junked the charges filed against him.

The sinking in 2008 left more than 800 people dead or missing.

In a minute resolution, the SC Second Division said the victims, through the Public Attorney's Office (PAO), failed to show that the Court of Appeals (CA) committed any "reversible error" in finding that there was no probable cause to indict Sulpicio's first vice president for administration Edgar Go for reckless imprudence and ordering the dismissal of his case.

The CA junked last year the charges filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) against Go in a Manila court.

The relatives of the victims will file a motion for reconsideration, PAO chief Persida Acosta said in a text message.

Go was charged for not instructing the vessel to seek shelter or drop anchor at the height of Typhoon Frank (international name: Fengshen) on June 21, 2008.

But the CA ruled on March 22, 2013 that it is the responsibility of the ship's captain, Florencio Marimon, in coordination with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), to decide matters pertaining to the vessel's navigation at sea.

According to the appellate court, Go's position only allows him to supervise personnel who perform liaison work with government agencies for compliance with statutory permits, certificates and franchises.

The SC backed this argument, saying Go can only be held liable for civil damages.

"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 carriage, hence, civil in nature. While the provisions of Article 2206 of the Civil Code have been made applicable to such instances, the same did not change the nature of the ship owner’s obligation from civil to criminal," the High Court said through Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe.

In its petition, the PAO said there is no point in stopping the case since the trial was already ongoing at the Manila Regional Trial Court branch 5 when the CA reversed the DOJ's finding of probable cause against the businessman.

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.

The Cebu-bound ship capsized off Sibuyan Island in Romblon, leaving 227 people dead and 592 missing. Only 32 people survived.

It also forced Sulpicio to change its name in 2009 after the incident caused a huge drop in its earnings. (Sunnex)

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