ILOILO City – The Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 33 here restrained the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) from enforcing an order to roll up or remove the tarpaulin covers used by motorboats crossing the Iloilo Strait.
“Allowing the motor bancas to operate without the tarpaulin/canvass is prejudicial to the health of passengers,” stated Presiding Judge Ma. Therese Enriquez-Gaspar in an order dated Nov. 4, 2019.
RTC Branch 33 issued the order in Civil Case No. 19-34392 for declaratory relief, mandatory injunction and prohibitory injunction with prayer for a temporary restraining order filed a several Guimaras residents led by Atty. Vicente De Asis against MARINA and PCG.
Following the tragic capsizing of three motorboats at the Iloilo Strait on Aug. 3 that killed 31 people, MARINA imposed several safety conditions contained in an Aug. 13 memorandum, including the prohibition on the use of canvas awnings / tarpaulins that it said could cause motorboats to capsize if blown by strong winds.
But the prohibition did not sit well with motorboat passengers and operators. It exposed them to the elements while crossing the Iloilo Strait such as the scorching heat of the sun and rain when there’s a downpour.
In ordering MARINA and PCG to stop from enforcing the tarpaulin rollup/removal order, RTC Branch 33 stated: “The trip from Iloilo (City) to Guimaras and vice versa takes 15 minutes to navigate in open sea. Without the canvass to cover the motor bancas, the passengers are exposed to extreme heat and strong rain.”
“It is not highly improbable that when the motor bancas leaves the port, the weather is fine and sunny, but that in the middle of the trip rain may suddenly pour. It does not require much to understand that exposing the passengers to this kind of condition will definitely imperil their health and consequently cause undue financial burden on them if and when they are compelled to seek medical treatment as a result thereof,” the order further read.
RTC Branch 33 issued the order 10 days after MARINA, on Oct. 25, decided to lift its prohibition on the use of canvas awnings / tarpaulins by motorboats.
However, according to MARINA Western Visayas director Jose Venancio Vero Jr., the installation of canvas awnings / tarpaulins is subject of several specifications and conditions.
An advisory from MARINA officer in charge Vice Admiral Narciso Vingson Jr. listed the following conditions:
* the maximum allowable length of tarpaulin / canvass shall be 50 percent of the overall length of the motorboat
* the maximum allowable width of tarpaulin / canvass shall be 80 percent of the breadth of the motorboat
* the tarpaulin / canvass shall be elevated to a maximum height of 1.80 meters from the uppermost part of the side shell and spread as much as possible straight horizontally
* the angle of inclination should not be more than 15 degrees from the horizontal line
* no passengers are allowed to occupy the portion above the machinery space up to the aft most part
* both sides (port and starboard) of the motorboat should have a minimum spacing in between post of 1.50 meters and minimum size of opening which is 1 meter x 1 meter
* for motorboats with fixed shed, it shall be elevated to a height of 1.80 meters from the uppermost part of the side shell and spread up to the moulded breadth.
In her Nov. 4 order, Judge Enriquez-Gaspar also denied for lack of merit MARINA and PCG’s motion for her inhibition from the case. The charge of partiality had no factual support and mere suspicion was not enough, she stressed.
“The Presiding Judge is not even a resident of Guimaras nor is she a regular commuter of Iloilo-Guimaras. She has absolutely no personal interest in the issues at hand. This Court can rightfully claim without a tinge of doubt and without fear or favor, that its order is based on a rational and logical assessment of the circumstances prevailing in the case at bar,” Judge Enriquez-Gaspar stressed.
She then set the preliminary conference for the pre-marking of exhibits on Dec. 6, 2019 and the pre-trial conference on Jan. 23, 2020./PN