SC flip-flops, revives charges vs Sulpicio exec over sunken ferry

Lian Buan
SC flip-flops, revives charges vs Sulpicio exec over sunken ferry
The Supreme Court rules this time that it shouldn't interfere with the finding of probable cause by the Department of Justice

MANILA, Philippines – Nearly 5 years later, the Supreme Court (SC) reversed itself and reinstated criminal charges of reckless imprudence against an executive of the then-called Sulpicio Lines over the 2008 M/V Princess of the Stars tragedy that killed at least 200 people and left hundreds still unaccounted for.

In 2009, the Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted Edgar Go, vice president for administration of Sulpicio Lines, for reckless imprudence, as he allowed the ship to sail despite a severe weather bulletin at the time.

The charges, filed before Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 5, could not fully proceed then because Go immediately fought his indictment. By March 2013, the Court of Appeals (CA) had cleared him of criminal liability.

The CA said at the time that Go’s decision to allow the vessel to sail “did not make him criminally liable.” The CA said that the DOJ could not name any law that holds an administrative officer of a shipping company accountable for the decisions made at sea.

In the decision by the SC’s 3rd Division promulgated on December 10, 2018, but only announced to media on Monday, April 8, the Court reversed itself and ruled that it shouldn’t interfere with the finding of probable cause by the DOJ.

“The March 22, 2013 Decision and the January 8, 2014 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-GR SP No. 115165 are reversed and set aside. The Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 5 is ordered to forthwith reinstate Criminal Case No. 09-269169 as against respondent Edgar S. Go,” said the 3rd Division in the ruling penned by Associate Justice Jose Reyes with concurrences from Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Marvic Leonen, Alexander Gesmundo, and Ramon Paul Hernando.

The Court added that “the DOJ Panel’s Resolution clearly supports a prima facie finding that reckless imprudence under Article 365 of the Revised Penal Code has been committed.”


The recent ruling is a flip-flop because in July 2014, the SC’s 2nd Division denied the petition for review of the victims represented then by government lawyers. The SC had upheld the CA ruling that Go was not criminally liable.

The SC said then: “As correctly ruled by the CA, respondent’s act of allowing the officers of the vessel to decide whether to set sail or not and, thereafter, failing to instruct them to seek shelter or drop anchor in the face of the storm, did not render him criminally liable.”

A month after, the SC’s 2nd Division granted the victims’ motion for reconsideration and opened a review of the case.

This latest ruling is a result of that review.

The SC’s 3rd Division took note that the DOJ “did not only rely on affidavits of complainants but also conducted clarificatory hearings” before reaching its conclusion that Go should be indicted for reckless imprudence.

“It must be emphasized that there is a separate civil action instituted against [Sulpicio Lines] based on culpa contractual incurred by it due to its failure to carry safely the passengers of Stars to their place of destination. The civil action against a shipowner for breach of contract of carriage does not preclude criminal prosecution against its employees whose negligence resulted in the death of or injuries to passengers,” the SC’s 3rd Division said this time.

In June 2018, the CA denied Sulpicio’s appeal to restore its license to ferry people.

Now called Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation, the shipping company lost its certificate to carry passengers in 2015. It is now only allowed to carry cargo. – 

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.