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SC affirms dismissal of M/V Doña Paz class suit

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court on Wednesday, April 13, junked the petition
to revive the class suit filed in lower courts by the families of the victims of the M/V Doña
Paz tragedy.

The SC's Third Division dismissed the petition filed by Caltex Philippines, Incorporated
(now Chevron) and its allied companies seeking to overturn the decision issued by the
Regional Trial Court of Manila.

It said it found it "peculiar" that the Caltex – as respondents in the suit together with
Sulpicio Lines, Vector Shipping and several others – wanted the class suit to continue
even after the court had dismissed them.

"The peculiarity in this case is that petitioners, who were the defendants in the
antecedent cases before the RTCs of Catbalogan and Manila, are most adamant in
invoking their waiver of the defense of prescription while the respondents, to whom the
cause of action belong, have acceded to the dismissal of their complaint " the SC noted.

In December 1987, passenger ferry M/V Doña Paz, owned by Sulpicio Lines, collided
with Vector Shipping's oil tanker M/T Vector, which was carrying Caltex petroleum. The
tragedy, considered as the worst peace time maritime disaster in the world, left around
4,000 people dead.

The class suit was first filed in Texas and Louisiana, but was dismissed in both. In 2001,
it was brought before the RTC of Catbalogan, which dismissed the suit on the ground of
prescription – the case was filed more than 13 years after the tragedy.

The complainants filed a motion for intervention before the Manila RTC, which denied it
in 2002 due to lack of merit.

In a surprising move, the defendant companies filed a motion for reconsideration and
waged their defense of prescription. The Catbalogan RTC simply noted the motion,
while the Manila RTC did not give weight to it.

"In the instant case, not only once did the petitioners expressly renounce their defense
of prescription. Nonetheless, the Court cannot consider such waiver as basis in order to
reverse the rulings of the courts below as the dismissal of the complaint had become
final and binding on both petitioners and the respondents," the SC said.

The High Court added that the Catbalogan RTC cannot be faulted for the case
dismissal because the "cause of action had already prescribed."
The 13-page ruling was penned by Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes. Chief Justice
Maria Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr, Jose Portugal
Perez, and Francis Jardeleza concurred with the decision. – Rappler.com