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324 Phil. 513


[ G.R. No. 118126, March 04, 1996 ]




As formulated by the petitioner, the issue in this petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court is as follows:

In case of interruption of a vessel’s voyage and the consequent delay in that vessel’s arrival at its port of destination, is the right of a passenger affected thereby to be determined and governed by the vague Civil Code provision on common carriers, or shall it be, in the absence of a specific provision thereon, governed by Art. 698 of the Code of Commerce?[1]

The petitioner considers it a "novel question of law."

Upon a closer evaluation, however, of the challenged decision of the Court of Appeals of 23 November 1994,[2] vis-a-vis, the decision of 29 June 1992 in Civil Case No. 91-491 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Cagayan de Oro City, Branch 24,[3] as well as the allegations and arguments adduced by the parties, we find the petitioner’s formulation of the issue imprecise. As this Court sees it, what stands for resolution is a common carrier’s liability for damages to a passenger who disembarked from the vessel upon its return to the port of origin, after it suffered engine trouble and had to stop at sea, having commenced the contracted voyage on one engine.

The antecedents are summarized by the Court of Appeals as follows:

Plaintiff [herein private respondent Atty. Renato Arroyo], a public attorney, bought a ticket [from] defendant [herein petitioner], a corporation engaged in x x x inter-island shipping, for the voyage of M/V Asia Thailand vessel to Cagayan de Oro City from Cebu City on November 12, 1991.

At around 5:30 in the evening of November 12, 1991, plaintiff boarded the M/V Asia Thailand vessel. At that instance, plaintiff noticed that some repair works [sic] were being undertaken on the engine of the vessel. The vessel departed at around 11:00 in the evening with only one (1) engine running.

After an hour of slow voyage, the vessel stopped near Kawit Island and dropped its anchor thereat. After half an hour of stillness, some passengers demanded that they should be allowed to return to Cebu City for they were no longer willing to continue their voyage to Cagayan de Oro City. The captain acceded [sic] to their request and thus the vessel headed back to Cebu City.

At Cebu City, plaintiff together with the other passengers who requested to be brought back to Cebu City, were allowed to disembark. Thereafter, the vessel proceeded to Cagayan de Oro City. Plaintiff, the next day, boarded the M/V Asia Japan for its voyage to Cagayan de Oro City, likewise a vessel of defendant.

On account of this failure of defendant to transport him to the place of destination on November 12, 1991, plaintiff filed before the trial court a complaint for damages against defendant.[4]

In his complaint, docketed as Civil Case No. 91-491, plaintiff (hereinafter private respondent) alleged that the engines of the M/V Asia Thailand conked out in the open sea, and for more than an hour it was stalled and at the mercy of the waves, thus causing fear in the passengers. It sailed back to Cebu City after it regained power, but for unexplained reasons, the passengers, including the private respondent, were arrogantly told to ‘disembark without the necessary precautions against possible injury to them. They were thus unceremoniously dumped, which only exacerbated the private respondent’s mental distress. He further alleged that by reason of the petitioner’s wanton, reckless, and willful acts, he was unnecessarily exposed to danger and, having been stranded in Cebu City for a day, incurred additional expenses and loss of income. He then prayed that he be awarded P1,100.00, P50,000.00, and P25,000.00 as compensatory, moral, and exemplary damages, respectively.[5]

In his pre-trial brief, the private respondent asserted that his complaint was "an action for damage&arising from bad faith, breach of contract and from tort," with the former arising from the petitioner’s "failure to carry [him] to his place of destination as contracted," while the latter from the "conduct of the [petitioner] resulting [in] the infliction of emotional distress" to the private respondent.[6]

After due trial, the trial court rendered its decision[7] and ruled that the action was only for breach of contract, with Articles 1170, 1172, and 1173 of the Civil Code as applicable law - not Article 2180 of the same Code. It was of the opinion that Article 1170 made a person liable for damages if, in the performance of his obligation, he was guilty of fraud, negligence, or delay, or in any manner contravened the tenor thereof; moreover, pursuant to Article 2201 of the same Code, to be entitled to damages, the non-performance of the obligation must have been tainted not only by fraud, negligence, or delay, but also bad faith, malice, and wanton attitude. It then disposed of the case as follows:

WHEREFORE, it not appearing from the evidence that plaintiff was left in the Port of Cebu because of the fault, negligence, malice or wanton attitude of defendant’s employees, the complaint is DISMISSED. Defendant’s counterclaim is likewise dismissed it not appearing also that filing of the case by plaintiff was motivated by malice or bad faith.[8]

The trial court made the following findings to support its disposition:

In the light of the evidence adduced by the parties and of the above provisions of the New Civil Code, the issue to be resolved, in the resolution of this case is whether or not, defendant thru its employee in [sic] the night of November 12, 1991, committed fraud, negligence, bad faith or malice when it left plaintiff in the Port of Cebu when it sailed back to Cagayan de Oro City after it has [sic] returned from Kawit Island.

Evaluation of the evidence of the parties tended to show nothing that defendant committed fraud. As early as 3:00 p.m. of November 12, 1991, defendant did not hide the fact that the cylinder head cracked. Plaintiff even saw during its repair. If he had doubts as to the vessel’s capacity to sail, he had time yet to take another boat. The ticket could be returned to defendant and corresponding cash [would] be returned to him.

Neither could negligence, bad faith or malice on the part of defendant be inferred from the evidence of the parties. When the boat arrived at [the] Port of Cebu after it returned from Kawit Island, there was an announcement that passengers who would like to disembark were given ten (10) minutes only to do so. By this announcement, it could be inferred that the boat will [sic] proceed to Cagayan de Oro City. If plaintiff entertained doubts, he should have asked a member of the crew of the boat or better still, the captain of the boat. But as admitted by him, he was of the impression only that the boat will not proceed to Cagayan de Oro that evening so he disembarked. He was instead, the ones [sic] negligent. Had he been prudent, with the announcement that those who will disembark were given ten minutes only, he should have lingered a little by staying in his cot and inquired whether the boat will proceed to Cagayan de Oro City or not. Defendant cannot be expected to be telling [sic] the reasons to each passenger. Announcement by microphone was enough.

The court is inclined to believe that the story of defendant that the boat returned to the Port of Cebu because of the request of the passengers in view of the waves. That it did not return because of the defective engines as shown by the fact that fifteen (15) minutes after the boat docked [at] the Port of Cebu and those who wanted to proceed to Cagayan de Oro disembarked, it left for Cagayan de Oro City.

The defendant got nothing when the boat returned to Cebu to let those who did not want to proceed to Cagayan de Oro City including plaintiff disembarked. On the contrary, this would mean its loss instead because it will have to refund their tickets or they will use it the next trip without paying anymore. It is hard therefore, to imagine how defendant by leaving plaintiff in Cebu could have acted in bad faith, negligently, want only and with malice.

If plaintiff, therefore, was not able to [m]ake the trip that night of November 12, 1991, it was not because defendant maliciously did it to exclude him [from] the trip. If he was left, it was because of his fault or negligence.[9]

Unsatisfied, the private respondent appealed to the Court of Appeals (CA-G.R. CV No. 39901) and submitted for its determination the following assignment of errors: (1) the trial court erred in not finding that the defendant-appellee was guilty of fraud, delay, negligence, and bad faith; and (2) the trial court erred in not awarding moral and exemplary damages.[10]

In its decision of 23 November 1994,[11] the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision by applying Article 1755 in relation to Articles 2201, 2208, 2217, and 2232 of the Civil Code and, accordingly, awarded compensatory, moral, and exemplary damages as follows:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appealed decision is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE and another one is rendered ordering defendant-appellee to pay plaintiff-appellant:

1. P20,000.00 as moral damages;

2. P10,000.00 as exemplary damages;

3. P5,000.00 as attorney’s fees;

4. Cost of suit.


It did not, however, allow the grant of damages for the delay in the performance of the petitioner’s obligation as the requirement of demand set forth in Article 1169 of the Civil Code had not been met by the private respondent. Besides, it found that the private respondent offered no evidence to prove that his contract of carriage with the petitioner provided for liability in case of delay in departure, nor that a designation of the time of departure was the controlling motive for the establishment of the contract. On the latter, the court a quo observed that the private respondent even admitted he was unaware of the vessel’s departure time, and it was only when he boarded the vessel that he became aware of such. Finally, the respondent Court found no reasonable basis for the private respondent’s belief that demand was useless because the petitioner had rendered it beyond its power to perform its obligation; on the contrary, he even admitted that the petitioner had been assuring the passengers that the vessel would leave on time, and that it could still perform its obligation to transport them as scheduled.

To justify its award of damages, the Court of Appeals ratiocinated as follows:

It is an established and admitted fact that the vessel before the voyage had undergone some repair work on the cylinder head of the engine. It is likewise admitted by defendant-appellee that it left the port of Cebu City with only one engine running. Defendant-appellee averred:

x x x The dropping of the vessel’s anchor after running slowly on only one engine when it departed earlier must have alarmed some nervous passengers x x x

The entries in the logbook which defendant-appellee itself offered as evidence categorically stated therein that the vessel stopped at Kawit Island because of engine trouble. It reads:


The stoppage was not to start and synchronized [sic] the engines of the vessel as claimed by defendant-appellee. It was because one of the engines of the vessel broke down; it was because of the disability of the vessel which from the very beginning of the voyage was known to defendant-appellee.

Defendant-appellee from the very start of the voyage knew for a fact that the vessel was not yet in its sailing condition because the second engine was still being repaired. Inspite of this knowledge, defendant-appellee still proceeded to sail with only one engine running.

Defendant-appellee at that instant failed to exercise the diligence which all common carriers should exercise in transporting or carrying passengers. The law does not merely require extraordinary diligence in the performance of the obligation. The law mandates that common carrier[s] should exercise utmost diligence in the transport of passengers.

Article 1755 of the New Civil Code provides:

ART. 1755. A common carrier is bound to carry the passengers safely as far as human care and foresight can provide, using the utmost diligence of very cautious persons, with a due regard for all the circumstances.

Utmost diligence of a VERY CAUTIOUS person dictates that defendant-appellee should have pursued the voyage only when its vessel was already fit to sail. Defendant-appellee should have made certain that the vessel [could] complete the voyage before starting [to] sail. Anything less than this, the vessel [could not] sail x x x with so many passengers on board it.

However, defendant-appellant [sic] in complete disregard of the safety of the passengers, chose to proceed with its voyage even if only one engine was running as the second engine was still being repaired during the voyage. Defendant-appellee disregarded the not very remote possibility that because of the disability of the vessel, other problems might occur which would endanger the lives of the passengers sailing with a disabled vessel.

As expected, x x x engine trouble occurred. Fortunate[ly] for defendant-appellee, such trouble only necessitated the stoppage of the vessel and did not cause the vessel to capsize. No wonder why some passengers requested to be brought back to Cebu City. Common carriers which are mandated to exercise utmost diligence should not be taking these risks.

On this premise, plaintiff-appellant should not be faulted why he chose to disembark from the vessel with the other passengers when it returned back to Cebu City. Defendant-appellee may call him a very "panicky passenger" or a "nervous person," but this will not relieve defendant-appellee from the liability it incurred for its failure to exercise utmost diligence.[13]

xxx      xxx     xxx

As to the second assigned error, we find that plaintiff-appellant is entitled to the award of moral and exemplary damages for the breach committed by defendant-appellee.

As discussed, defendant-appellee in sailing to Cagayan de Oro City with only one engine and with full knowledge of the true condition of the vessel, acted in bad faith with malice, in complete disregard for the safety of the passengers and only for its own personal advancement/interest.

The Civil Code provides:

Art 2201.

xxx     xxx     xxx

In case of fraud, bad faith, malice or wanton attitude, the obligor shall be responsible for all damages which may be reasonably attributed to the non-performance of the obligation.

Plaintiff-appellant is entitled to moral damages for the mental anguish, fright and serious anxiety he suffered during the voyage when the vessel’s engine broke down and when he disembarked from the vessel during the wee hours of the morning at Cebu City when it returned.[14]

Moral damages are recoverable in a damage suit predicated upon a breach of contract of carriage where it is proved that the carrier was guilty of fraud or bad faith even if death does not result.[15]

Fraud and bad faith by defendant-appellee having been established, the award of moral damages is in order.[16]

To serve as a deterrent to the commission of similar acts in the future, exemplary damages should be imposed upon defendant-appellee.[17] Exemplary damages are designed by our civil law to permit the courts to reshape behavior that is socially deleterious in its consequence by creating x x x negative incentives or deterrents against such behavior.[18]

Moral damages having been awarded, exemplary damages maybe properly awarded. When entitlement to moral damages has been established, the award of exemplary damages is proper.[19]

The petitioner then instituted this petition and submitted the question of law earlier adverted to.

Undoubtedly, there was, between the petitioner and the private respondent, a contract of common carriage. The laws of primary application then are the provisions on common carriers under Section 4, Chapter 3, Title VIII, Book IV of the Civil Code, while for all other matters not regulated thereby, the Code of Commerce and special laws.[20]

Under Article 1733 of the Civil Code, the petitioner was bound to observe extraordinary diligence in ensuring the safety of the private respondent. That meant that the petitioner was, pursuant to Article 1755 of the said Code, bound to carry the private respondent safely as far as human care and foresight could provide, using the utmost diligence of very cautious persons, with due regard for all the circumstances. In this case, we are in full accord with the Court of Appeals that the petitioner failed to discharge this obligation.

Before commencing the contracted voyage, the petitioner undertook some repairs on the cylinder head of one of the vessel’s engines. But even before it could finish these repairs, it allowed the vessel to leave the port of origin on only one functioning engine, instead of two. Moreover, even the lone functioning engine was not in perfect condition as sometime after it had run its course, it conked out. This caused the vessel to stop and remain adrift at sea, thus in order to prevent the ship from capsizing, it had to drop anchor. Plainly, the vessel was unseaworthy even before the voyage began. For a vessel to be seaworthy, it must be adequately equipped for the voyage and manned with a sufficient number of competent officers and crew.[21] The failure of a common carrier to maintain in seaworthy condition its vessel involved in a contract of carriage is a clear breach of is duty prescribed in Article 1755 of the Civil Code.

As to its liability for damages to the private respondent, Article 1764 of the Civil Code expressly provides:

ART. 1764. Damages in cases comprised in this Section shall be awarded in accordance with Title XVIII of this Book, concerning Damages. Article 2206 shall also apply to the death of a passenger caused by the breach of contract by common carrier.

The damages comprised in Title XVIII of the Civil Code are actual or compensatory, moral, nominal, temperate or moderate, liquidated, and exemplary.

In his complaint, the private respondent claims actual or compensatory, moral, and exemplary damages.

Actual or compensatory damages represent the adequate compensation for pecuniary loss suffered and for profits the obligee failed to obtain.[22]

In contracts or quasi-contracts, the obligor is liable for all the damages which may be reasonably attributed to the non-performance of the obligation if he is guilty of fraud, bad faith, malice, or wanton attitude.[23]

Moral damages include moral suffering, mental anguish, fright, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, wounded feelings, moral shock, social humiliation, or similar injury. They may be recovered in the cases enumerated in Article 2219 of the Civil Code, likewise, if they are the proximate result of, as in this case, the petitioner’s breach of the contract of carriage.[24] Anent a breach of a contract of common carriage, moral damages may be awarded if the common carrier, like the petitioner, acted fraudulently or in bad faith.[25]

Exemplary damages are imposed by way of example or correction for the public good, in addition to moral, temperate, liquidated or compensatory damages.[26] In contracts and quasi-contracts, exemplary damages may be awarded if the defendant acted in a wanton fraudulent, reckless, oppressive or malevolent manner.[27] It cannot, however, be considered as a matter of right; the court having to decide whether or not they should be adjudicated.[28] Before the court may consider an award for exemplary damages, the plaintiff must first show that he is entitled to moral, temperate or compensatory damages; but it is not necessary that he prove the monetary value thereof.[29]

The Court of Appeals did not grant the private respondent actual or compensatory damages, reasoning that no delay was incurred since there was no demand, as required by Article 1169 of the Civil Code. This article, however, finds no application in this case because, as found by the respondent Court, there was in fact no delay in the commencement of the contracted voyage. If any delay was incurred, it was after the commencement of such voyage, more specifically, when the voyage was subsequently interrupted when the vessel had to stop near Kawit Island after the only functioning engine conked out.

As to the rights and duties of the parties strictly arising out of such delay, the Civil Code is silent. However, as correctly pointed out by the petitioner, Article 698 of the Code of Commerce specifically provides for such a situation. It reads:

In case a voyage already begun should be interrupted, the passengers shall be obliged to pay the fare in proportion to the distance covered, without right to recover for losses and damages if the interruption is due to fortuitous event or force majeure, but with a right to indemnity if the interruption should have been caused by the captain exclusively. If the interruption should be caused by the disability of the vessel and a passenger should agree to await the repairs, he may not be required to pay any increased price of passage, but his living expenses during the stay shall be for his own account.

This article applies suppletorily pursuant to Article 1766 of the Civil Code.

Of course, this does not suffice for a resolution of the case at bench for, as earlier stated, the cause of the delay or interruption was the petitioner’s failure to observe extraordinary diligence. Article 698 must then be read together with Articles 2199, 2200, 2201, and 2208 in relation to Article 21 of the Civil Code. So read, it means that the petitioner is liable for any pecuniary loss or loss of profits which the private respondent may have suffered by reason thereof. For the private respondent, such would be the loss of income if unable to report to his office on the day he was supposed to arrive were it not for the delay. This, however, assumes that he stayed on the vessel and was with it when it thereafter resumed its voyage; but he did not. As he and some passengers resolved not to complete the voyage, the vessel had to return to its port of origin and allow them to disembark. The private respondent then took the petitioner’s other vessel the following day, using the ticket he had purchased for the previous day’s voyage.

Any further delay then in the private respondent’s arrival at the port of destination was caused by his decision to disembark. Had he remained on the first vessel, he would have reached his destination at noon of 13 November 1991, thus been able to report to his office in the afternoon. He, therefore, would have lost only the salary for half of a day. But actual or compensatory damages must be proved,[30] which the private respondent failed to do. There is no convincing evidence that he did not receive his salary for 13 November 1991 nor that his absence was not excused.

We likewise fully agree with the Court of Appeals that the petitioner is liable for moral and exemplary damages. In allowing its unseaworthy M/V Asia Thailand to leave the port of origin and undertake the contracted voyage, with full awareness that it was exposed to perils of the sea, it deliberately disregarded its solemn duty to exercise extraordinary diligence and obviously acted with bad faith and in a wanton and reckless manner. On this score, however, the petitioner asserts that the safety of the vessel and passengers was never at stake because the sea was "calm" in the vicinity where it stopped as faithfully recorded in the vessel’s log book (Exhibit "4"). Hence, the petitioner concludes, the private respondent was merely ‘over-reacting" to the situation obtaining then.[31]

We hold that the petitioner’s defense cannot exculpate it nor mitigate its liability. On the contrary, such a claim demonstrates beyond cavil the petitioner’s lack of genuine concern for the safety of its passengers. It was, perhaps, only providential that the sea happened to be calm. Even so, the petitioner should not expect its passengers to act in the manner it desired. The passengers were not stoics; becoming alarmed, anxious, or frightened at the stoppage of a vessel at sea in an unfamiliar zone at nighttime is not the sole prerogative of the faint-hearted. More so in the light of the many tragedies at sea resulting in the loss of lives of hopeless passengers and damage to property simply because common carriers failed in their duty to exercise extraordinary diligence in the performance of their obligations.

We cannot, however, give our affirmance to the award of attorney’s fees. Under Article 2208 of the Civil Code, these are recoverable only in the concept of actual damages,[32] not as moral damages[33] nor judicial costs.[34] Hence, to merit such an award, it is settled that the amount thereof must be proven.[35] Moreover, such must be specifically prayed for - as was not done in this case - and may not be deemed incorporated within a general prayer for "such other relief and remedy as this court may deem just and equitable."[36] Finally, it must be noted that aside from the following, the body of the respondent Court’s decision was devoid of any statement regarding attorney’s fees:

Plaintiff-appellant was forced to litigate in order that he can claim moral and exemplary damages for the suffering he encurred [sic]. He is entitled to attorney’s fees pursuant to Article 2208 of the Civil Code. It states:

Article 2208. In the absence of stipulation, attorney’ s fees and expenses of litigation, other than judicial costs cannot be recovered except:

1.  When exemplary damages are awarded;

2.  When the defendant’s act or omission has compelled the plaintiff to litigate with third persons or to incur expenses to protect his interest.

This Court holds that the above does not satisfy the benchmark of "factual, legal and equitable justification" needed as basis for an award of attorney’s fees.[37] In sum, for lack of factual and legal basis, the award of attorney’s fees must be deleted.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is DENIED and the challenged decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 39901 is AFFIRMED subject to the modification as to the award for attorney’s fees which is hereby SET ASIDE.

Costs against the petitioner.


Narvasa, C.J. (Chairman), Melo, Francisco, and Panganiban, JJ., concur.

Rollo, 3.

[2] Annex "A" of Petition; Id., 11-22. Per Labitoria, E., J., with Abad-Santos, Jr., Q., and Hofileña, H., if., concurring.

[3] Original Record (OR), Civil Case No. 91-491, 92-99; 100-107; 108-115. Per Judge Leonardo N. Demecillo.

[4] Rollo, 12-13.

[5] OR, Civil Case No. 91-491, 2-5.

[6] Id., 43.

[7] Supra note 3.

[8] OR, Civil Case No. 91-491, 99.

[9] OR, Civil Case No. 91-491, 97-99.

[10] Rollo, 12.

[11] Supra note 2.

[12] Rollo, 21.

[13] Rollo, 14-16.

[14] Id., 19-20, citing Article 2217, Civil Code.

[15] Id., citing China Airlines Ltd. vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, 169 SCRA 226 [1989]; Sabena Belgina World Airlines vs. Court of Appeals, 171 SCRA 620 [1989].

[16] Id., citing Bert Osmeña & Associates vs. Court of Appeals, 120 SCRA 395 [1983].

[17] Rollo, 19-20, citing Rotea vs. Halili, 109 Phil. 495 [1960].

[18] Id., citing Mecenas vs. Court of Appeals, 180 SCRA 83 [1989].

[19] Id., citing De Leon vs. Court of Appeals, 165 SCRA 166 [1988].

[20] Article 1766, Civil Code.

[21] Chan Keep vs. Chan Gioco, 14 Phil. 5 [1909].

[22] Article 2199 and 2200.

[23] Article 2201.

[24] Article 2217.

[25] Article 2220. See Necesito vs. Paras, 104 Phil. 75, 82-83 [1958].

[26] Article 2229.

[27] Article 2232.

[28] Article 2233.

[29] Article 2234.

[30] Article 2199.

[31] Brief for Defendant Appellee, 9; Rollo, 33.

[32] Fores vs. Miranda, 105 Phil. 266,272 [1959]; PCIB vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, 196 SCRA 29, 39 [1991].

[33] Mirasol vs. de la Cruz, 84 SCRA 337, 342 [1978].

[34] Damasen vs. Hernando, 104 SCRA 111, 116-117 [1981].

[35] Warner, Barnes & Co., Ltd. vs. Luzon Surety Co., Inc., 95 Phil. 925 [1954].

[36] Mirasol vs. de la Cruz, supra note 33, at 343.

[37] See Scott Consultants & Resource Development vs. Court of Appeals, 242 SCRA 393, 405-406 1995].

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