"x x x.
Thanks to the judicial system in another country, relatives of 1,500 victims and a few survivors of the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster are getting compensation.
After three decades of waiting, P200,000 to P400,000 in indemnity for each survivor or fatality is not a lot and barely enough to cover the cost of litigation. But the amount is still better than the P30,000 offered by Sulpicio Lines, owner of the ferry Doña Paz, for each victim.
With the rejection of the offer of Sulpicio Lines, renamed Span Asia Carrier in 2012, the victims turned to US courts, this time seeking indemnity from Caltex International. The oil giant was the shipper of 8,800 barrels of petroleum products on the oil tanker Vector, which collided with Doña Paz in Tablas Strait between Marinduque and Oriental Mindoro on Dec. 20, 1987.
Initially rejected by courts in Texas and Louisiana, the class suit was later reconsidered. Last month the Supreme Court in Louisiana ordered Caltex to pay the claims following arguments that fire from the burning petrol on the Vector jumped to Doña Paz and killed many of the 4,386 victims. Last Saturday, payment of the claims finally started in Tacloban, Catbalogan and Manila.
Both the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court in the Philippines had absolved Caltex of any liability in the disaster, instead pinning the blame on the oil tanker’s owner Vector Shipping Corp. and Sulpicio.
It’s not the first time that aggrieved parties in the Philippines have sought redress in foreign courts. Human rights victims of the Marcos dictatorship, who may never see any Marcos heir or crony go to prison, have been awarded modest restitution by a court in Hawaii. The Swiss court, in a ruling that was seen as a landmark in that country, also ordered the return to the Philippine government of millions of dollars stashed in Swiss banks by the Marcos regime. The money, officially declared as ill-gotten, has been recovered, but to this day the Philippine government has failed to send to prison any owner of the Swiss deposits.
The Philippine justice system is so notoriously inefficient that many foreign companies doing business in this country insist on a provision that requires international arbitration in case of problems in implementing a contract. The latest development in the Doña Paz-Vector case is another illustration of the weakness of the justice system.
x x x."