Victims’ kin to SC: Revive case vs Sulpicio Lines exec

Buena Bernal
The appeals court makes an 'inordinate' decision to dismiss a case still being heard by a Manila court on the 2008 sinking of M/V Princess of the Stars

PETITION. Chief Public Attorney Persida Rueda-Acosta of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Public Attorney's Office accompanies victims' relatives petitioning the High Court. Photo by Buena Bernal/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Six years have passed, but their agony is nowhere near over.

On Thursday, March 6, relatives of the casualties in the 2008 sinking of the M/V Princess of the Stars ferry petitioned the Supreme Court (SC) for the reversal of a Court of Appeals (CA) ruling acquitting an executive of the company that owned the cargo ship.

Edgar Go, vice president for administration of Sulpicio Lines Incorporated (SLI), was cleared by the CA on March 22, 2013, of criminal charges related to the 2008 incident.

Go, who was also head of the SLI’s crisis management committee, was indicted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide, serious physical injuries, and damage to properties.

The CA, however, ordered the dismissal of the criminal case against Go before the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC). It reaffirmed its decision early 2014.

Speaking to reporters, Chief Public Attorney Persida Rueda-Acosta of the DOJ Public Attorney’s Office said the executive had a hand in the decision-making process that could have prevented the accident.

Ang dinadahilan kapitan lang daw may kasalanan. Eh ang analysis ng DOJ, being the head of the crisis management team, si Edgar Go, aba’y dapat noong umaga pa lang na nagmi-meeting sila, inorder niya na na mag-shelter ‘yung barko, hindi yung nakipag-eye to eye sa typhoon sa Romblon,” she explained.

(They are reasoning out that only the captain is to blame. But the analysis of the DOJ is that, being the head of the crisis management team, Edgar Go should have ordered the ship to seek shelter in the morning when the committee was still in a meeting, instead of allowing to proceed to Romblon and meet the typhoon head on.)

The M/V Princess of the Stars sank in June 2008, tipping over near the coast of Sibuyan island in Romblon province. Of the 850 persons on board, only 57 survived. (READ: History of ferry disasters in the Philippines)

Call for justice

Ernesto Clarin, husband of one those who died in the accident, said their fight for justice is far from over. He said SLI offered P10,000 for each of the victims’ claimants, an amount he believes is not enough for the death of his wife Arlene.

He added that the financial losses alone exceeded P10,000 as his wife used to run their family business.

Nagtaka lang kami bakit pinawalang-sala ang opisyal…. Dapat ‘yung management managot. Kaya nandito kami ngayon upang magprotesta, mag-file ng motion for certiorari para sa kasong ito,” he said. (We wondered why the official was acquitted…. The management should be held liable. That’s why we are here today to protest and file a motion for certiorari for this case.)

Rueda-Acosta said the SLI still operates to this day, this time registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as Philippine Span Asia.

An emotional old woman, whose daughter was aboard the Princess of Stars ferry in June 2008, believes SLI should be held liable for negligence. The body of her daughter – who is herself a mother of 5 – has not been found.

Minsan nasasabi ko, kung sino man ‘yung mga may-ari ng Sulpicio Lines na ‘yan, dun na lang kami sa gitna ng dagat. Ihulog ko na lang sila, quits na kami,” she said at the height of her emotions (Sometimes I tend to say, whoever are the owners of Sulpicio Lines, we can just go in the middle of the sea. I’ll just drop them there, and we can call it quits.)

‘Inordinate’ CA ruling

Rueda-Acosta tagged as “inordinate” the decision of the CA to exonerate Go amid his criminal case being heard at the Manila RTC Branch 5.

Go had been arraigned and 9 prosecution witnesses were already presented even before the CA rendered its decision dismissing the case against him. 

Inordinate ‘yun. Dahil hindi pupuwede na nagta-trial na ang isang kaso, biglang may CA [decision] na lalabas. Puwede ‘yun, halimbawa, kinonvict siya sa lower court, inapela sa CA. Tsaka siya ia-acquit kung gusto i-acquit,” she explained.

(That’s inordinate. There was a case on trial and a CA [decision on it] suddenly comes out dismissing the case. That’s allowed only when the accused has been convicted in a lower court and he appeals the decision before the CA. Only then can he be acquitted.)

A motion for reconsideration to have the CA decision reviewed was also dismissed, forcing the petitioners to appeal before the High Court.

According to the March 5 SC petition of the victims’ kin, Go “deliberately failed to exercise due diligence when, in the early morning of June 21, 2008, at the latest, he did not direct the ship captain and his crew to drop anchor and/or seek shelter in the vicinity of Batangas despite the fact that PSWS No. 3 was already hoisted over the area of Romblon.” – Rappler.com