THE Public Attorneys’ Office (PAO) announced on Tuesday that a Cebu trial court has ordered the indemnification of 55 families of the victims of the M/V Princess of the Stars which sank in 2008 amounting to P226.9 million.
In a virtual press briefing, PAO chief Persida Rueda-Acosta said Judge Dante Corminal of the Cebu Regional Trial Court’s Branch 16 awarded a total of P206, 317, 258 to the 55 families and P20, 631, 725 in attorneys’ fees.
“We (PAO) are now in the process of contacting all the 55 clients to inform them of the winning decision in their cases,” she said.
“Of those already informed of the outcome of the case, they have expressed their happiness and relief that finally after more than 13 years, they have been given the justice they have been waiting for,” the chief public attorney added.
Records showed that the M/V Princess of the Stars, a passenger ferry owned by the Sulpicio Lines (now Span Asia Carrier) sank on June 21, 2008 off the coast of San Fernando, Romblon due to rough seas at the height of typhoon “Frank” that passed directly over the island province.
Figures showed that 814 persons were declared dead and missing and 56 survived for a total of 870 passengers and crew.
Sulpicio Lines had announced, however, that there were 755 passengers in the manifest and 111 crew members for a total of 866.
The PAO chief said that of the 59 families who filed cases, 55 were awarded damages while four were dismissed for failure to present evidence.
“The common evidence presented by PAO has already been ruled to have proved the negligence and liability of Sulpicio Lines which should redound to the benefit of the plaintiffs, who were unable to prove only the actual damages peculiar to them,” she said.
At the time of the incident, Sulpicio Lines had offered to pay the bereaved families P200,000 each, by way of compensation.
The PAO chief said 71 cases were consolidated and filed before the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 51 and 63 while others were filed before Branch 16 in Cebu.
“In Manila, the cases were decided in favor of the plaintiffs by the Manila Judge Daniel Villanueva (Branch 51) and ordered the award of damages to the plaintiffs.
But the Villanueva decision is subject to an appeal before the Court of Appeals, according to Rueda-Acosta.
“We thank the judiciary, Judge Villanueva and Judge Corminal. Even if our clients were poor, you gave weight to the evidence. We hope such a tragedy would not happen again,” she told the members of the Quezon City Press Club.
Rueda-Acosta also expressed gratitude to Dr. Erwin Erfe, PAO Forensics Division chief, who led the exhumation and identification of 38 remains of the victims and 100 others who were trapped underwater, the panel of public attorneys and the Philippine Coast Guard, as well as volunteers.
She said a motion for reconsideration is being prepared for the four dismissed cases.
Though the plaintiffs in those dismissed cases were unable to present their evidence, the PAO was able to present common evidence, applicable to all the plaintiffs in these consolidated cases tried and heard before the Cebu court, the PAO chief said.
Given the finding of negligence on the part of Sulpicio, et al., Rueda-Acosta said the affected plaintiffs (those who did not testify and whose cases were consequently dismissed) were undeniably entitled to moral and exemplary damages under the law.Internet Explorer Channel Network