SC exonerates owner of sunken ‘MV Princess of the Stars’ from criminal liability

By Perfecto T. Raymundo Jr.

MANILA, Aug. 4 (PNA) — The Supreme Court (SC) has exonerated from criminal liability the owner of the sunken “MV Princess of the Stars” in which 227 people died and 592 were reported missing six years ago.

It can be recalled that “MV Princess of the Stars” sailed for Cebu City from the Port of Manila on June 20, 2008, ferrying 849 individuals — 709 passengers, 29 contractors, and 111 crew members.

It capsized in the Sibuyan Sea of Romblon at 21:30 p.m. the following day. Only 32 of its passengers were rescued.

In a three-page minute resolution of the SC written by Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe of the 2nd Division, it resolved to deny the petition of the families of the victims of the sea tragedy.

The SC upheld the findings of the Court of Appeals (CA) that there was no probable cause to charge Edgar S. Go, the shipowner, for the crime of reckless imprudence resulting to multiple homicide and physical injuries.

“After a judicious review of the records, the Court resolves to Deny the instant petition and Affirm the March 22, 2013 Decision and January 8, 2014 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA GR SP No. 115165 for failure to show that the CA committed any reversible error in finding that there was no probable cause to indict Edgar S. Go for reckless imprudence and ordering the dismissal of Crim. Case No. 09-269169,” the SC resolution said.

The SC added that the CA was correct in its ruling that “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.”

Hence, the SC ruled that the only liability of Go was civil and not criminal in nature.

“The shipowner’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 shipowner, 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 shipowner’s obligation from civil to criminal,” the SC said.

The SC upheld the findings of the CA, to which the family of the victims who died and were injured with the sinking of the “MV Princess of the Stars” had elevated its case for its reversal.

The petition for review on certiorari was filed by the petitioners, through Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) Chief Atty. Persida Rueda-Acosta, questioning the ruling of the CA and asked for a reversal of its earlier decision exonerating shipowner Go.

According to the petitioners, Go had already been arraigned even before the CA rendered its ruling dismissing the case against him, hence, the lower court had the jurisdiction over the same.

They argued that nine prosecution witnesses were already presented before the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 5 even before the CA favored respondent Edgar S. Go by dismissing the case against him.

The petitioners added that “respondent Edgar S. Go deliberately failed to exercise due diligence when, in 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.”

In the CA decision last January 2014 written by Associate Justice Melchor Sadang, the CA Former 15th Division dismissed the motion for reconsideration filed by the victims, Department of Justice (DOJ), Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and cleared Go.

In the original ruling of the CA, vice president for Administration Go was cleared since the DOJ erred in finding probable cause and it was tainted with grave abuse of discretion. (PNA)