Seares: RTC ruling on Naga landslide didn’t resolve issue of cause and liability

Pachico A. Seares

DID the more than 8,000 victims lose in their lawsuit for damages against Cemex Holding Philippines, Inc. and its allied firms, along with government agencies, over the 2018 Naga City, Cebu landslide?

Were those sued by the landslide victims found by the court to be innocent and not liable for the death of 78 people and destruction of houses and displacement of their occupants?

Depends on which news story reached you and how you understood it. Legal stories aren’t exactly easy reading and, if not carefully written, may confuse news consumers.

Not yet resolved

Here is what the ruling did not do:

[1] Question of liability was not resolved in the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Sept. 30, which Cemex disclosed last Nov. 12 to the Securities & Exchange Commission. The issue of whether Cemex and the others are responsible for an act of God and whether they contributed to the cause and damage of the landslide was not resolved.

[2] The lawsuit has not ended, as 17 individuals out of 39 whose complaints were found to be in order can proceed separately once the docket fees are paid. What was dumped was the class suit.

Cause of action not stated

The RTC “junked” the class suit for failure to state a cause of action, namely the violation of the law on disaster risk reduction and management. (Note that the RTC didn’t say there was no cause of action.) It failed to qualify as a class suit.

Inevitably, the public wonders how the plaintiffs’ lawyers-–there were 12 of them-–could’ve not seen what their filing lacked and anticipated what the court would see as fatal defects. Twenty two of the pleadings of 39 individuals failed to contain verification and certification of non-forum-shopping. Only 17 claims can proceed.

What would happen to the rest, particularly the 22 and the rest of the 8,091 victims of the landslide? They have to go on their own before their rights would prescribe. The class suit would’ve spared them direct ordeal and expense of mounting and sustaining litigation.

Acts of men more cruel

It took a little over a year since the tragedy struck on Sept. 20, 2018 in Sitio Sindulan, Barangay Tinaan, Naga City for the RTC to decide that it was not a class suit.

Litigating on the individual claims of 17 victims-–and maybe of other cases that would reach the courts--might take even longer time.

Acts of men, or their failure to act, sometimes could be more cruel than the act of nature that brought the landslide.