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579 Phil. 344


[ G.R. No. 149547, July 04, 2008 ]




This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, assailing the Decision[1] dated 17 August 2001, rendered by the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 48664, affirming in toto the Order[2] dated 9 June 1998, of Branch 30 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Iloilo City, dismissing the Motion to Dismiss filed by petitioner Philippine Airlines Inc. (PAL) in the case entitled, Simplicio Griño v. Philippine Airlines, Inc. and Singapore Airlines, docketed as Civil Case No. 23773.

PAL is a corporation duly organized under Philippine law, engaged in the business of providing air carriage for passengers, baggage and cargo.[3]

Public respondent Hon. Adriano Savillo is the presiding judge of Branch 30 of the Iloilo RTC, where Civil Case No. 23773 was filed; while private respondent Simplicio Griño is the plaintiff in the aforementioned case.

The facts are undisputed.

Private respondent was invited to participate in the 1993 ASEAN Seniors Annual Golf Tournament held in Jakarta, Indonesia. He and several companions decided to purchase their respective passenger tickets from PAL with the following points of passage: MANILA-SINGAPORE-JAKARTA-SINGAPORE-MANILA. Private respondent and his companions were made to understand by PAL that its plane would take them from Manila to Singapore, while Singapore Airlines would take them from Singapore to Jakarta.[4]

On 3 October 1993, private respondent and his companions took the PAL flight to Singapore and arrived at about 6:00 o'clock in the evening. Upon their arrival, they proceeded to the Singapore Airlines office to check-in for their flight to Jakarta scheduled at 8:00 o'clock in the same evening. Singapore Airlines rejected the tickets of private respondent and his group because they were not endorsed by PAL. It was explained to private respondent and his group that if Singapore Airlines honored the tickets without PAL's endorsement, PAL would not pay Singapore Airlines for their passage. Private respondent tried to contact PAL's office at the airport, only to find out that it was closed.[5]

Stranded at the airport in Singapore and left with no recourse, private respondent was in panic and at a loss where to go; and was subjected to humiliation, embarrassment, mental anguish, serious anxiety, fear and distress. Eventually, private respondent and his companions were forced to purchase tickets from Garuda Airlines and board its last flight bound for Jakarta. When they arrived in Jakarta at about 12:00 o'clock midnight, the party who was supposed to fetch them from the airport had already left and they had to arrange for their transportation to the hotel at a very late hour. After the series of nerve-wracking experiences, private respondent became ill and was unable to participate in the tournament. [6]

Upon his return to the Philippines, private respondent brought the matter to the attention of PAL. He sent a demand letter to PAL on 20 December 1993 and another to Singapore Airlines on 21 March 1994. However, both airlines disowned liability and blamed each other for the fiasco. On 15 August 1997, private respondent filed a Complaint for Damages before the RTC docketed as Civil Case No. 23773, seeking compensation for moral damages in the amount of P1,000,000.00 and attorney's fees.[7]

Instead of filing an answer to private respondent's Complaint, PAL filed a Motion to Dismiss[8] dated 18 September 1998 on the ground that the said complaint was barred on the ground of prescription under Section 1(f) of Rule 16 of the Rules of Court.[9] PAL argued that the Warsaw Convention,[10] particularly Article 29 thereof,[11] governed this case, as it provides that any claim for damages in connection with the international transportation of persons is subject to the prescription period of two years. Since the Complaint was filed on 15 August 1997, more than three years after PAL received the demand letter on 25 January 1994, it was already barred by prescription.

On 9 June 1998, the RTC issued an Order[12] denying the Motion to Dismiss. It maintained that the provisions of the Civil Code and other pertinent laws of the Philippines, not the Warsaw Convention, were applicable to the present case.

The Court of Appeals, in its assailed Decision dated 17 August 2001, likewise dismissed the Petition for Certiorari filed by PAL and affirmed the 9 June 1998 Order of the RTC. It pronounced that the application of the Warsaw Convention must not be construed to preclude the application of the Civil Code and other pertinent laws. By applying Article 1144 of the Civil Code,[13] which allowed for a ten-year prescription period, the appellate court declared that the Complaint filed by private respondent should not be dismissed.[14]

Hence, the present Petition, in which petitioner raises the following issues:





The petition is without merit.

In determining whether PAL's Motion to Dismiss should have been granted by the trial court, it must be ascertained if all the claims made by the private respondent in his Complaint are covered by the Warsaw Convention, which effectively bars all claims made outside the two-year prescription period provided under Article 29 thereof. If the Warsaw Convention covers all of private respondent's claims, then Civil Case No. 23773 has already prescribed and should therefore be dismissed. On the other hand, if some, if not all, of respondent's claims are outside the coverage of the Warsaw Convention, the RTC may still proceed to hear the case.

The Warsaw Convention applies to "all international transportation of persons, baggage or goods performed by any aircraft for hire." It seeks to accommodate or balance the interests of passengers seeking recovery for personal injuries and the interests of air carriers seeking to limit potential liability. It employs a scheme of strict liability favoring passengers and imposing damage caps to benefit air carriers.[16] The cardinal purpose of the Warsaw Convention is to provide uniformity of rules governing claims arising from international air travel; thus, it precludes a passenger from maintaining an action for personal injury damages under local law when his or her claim does not satisfy the conditions of liability under the Convention.[17]

Article 19 of the Warsaw Convention provides for liability on the part of a carrier for "damages occasioned by delay in the transportation by air of passengers, baggage or goods." Article 24 excludes other remedies by further providing that "(1) in the cases covered by articles 18 and 19, any action for damages, however founded, can only be brought subject to the conditions and limits set out in this convention." Therefore, a claim covered by the Warsaw Convention can no longer be recovered under local law, if the statute of limitations of two years has already lapsed.

Nevertheless, this Court notes that jurisprudence in the Philippines and the United States also recognizes that the Warsaw Convention does not "exclusively regulate" the relationship between passenger and carrier on an international flight. This Court finds that the present case is substantially similar to cases in which the damages sought were considered to be outside the coverage of the Warsaw Convention.

In United Airlines v. Uy,[18] this Court distinguished between the (1) damage to the passenger's baggage and (2) humiliation he suffered at the hands of the airline's employees. The first cause of action was covered by the Warsaw Convention which prescribes in two years, while the second was covered by the provisions of the Civil Code on torts, which prescribes in four years.

Similar distinctions were made in American jurisprudence. In Mahaney v. Air France,[19] a passenger was denied access to an airline flight between New York and Mexico, despite the fact that she held a confirmed reservation. The court therein ruled that if the plaintiff were to claim damages based solely on the delay she experienced - for instance, the costs of renting a van, which she had to arrange on her own as a consequence of the delay - the complaint would be barred by the two-year statute of limitations. However, where the plaintiff alleged that the airlines subjected her to unjust discrimination or undue or unreasonable preference or disadvantage, an act punishable under the United States laws, then the plaintiff may claim purely nominal compensatory damages for humiliation and hurt feelings, which are not provided for by the Warsaw Convention. In another case, Wolgel v. Mexicana Airlines,[20] the court pronounced that actions for damages for the "bumping off" itself, rather than the incidental damages due to the delay, fall outside the Warsaw Convention and do not prescribe in two years.

In the Petition at bar, private respondent's Complaint alleged that both PAL and Singapore Airlines were guilty of gross negligence, which resulted in his being subjected to "humiliation, embarrassment, mental anguish, serious anxiety, fear and distress."[21] The emotional harm suffered by the private respondent as a result of having been unreasonably and unjustly prevented from boarding the plane should be distinguished from the actual damages which resulted from the same incident. Under the Civil Code provisions on tort,[22] such emotional harm gives rise to compensation where gross negligence or malice is proven.

The instant case is comparable to the case of Lathigra v. British Airways.[23]

In Lathigra, it was held that the airlines' negligent act of reconfirming the passenger's reservation days before departure and failing to inform the latter that the flight had already been discontinued is not among the acts covered by the Warsaw Convention, since the alleged negligence did not occur during the performance of the contract of carriage but, rather, days before the scheduled flight.

In the case at hand, Singapore Airlines barred private respondent from boarding the Singapore Airlines flight because PAL allegedly failed to endorse the tickets of private respondent and his companions, despite PAL's assurances to respondent that Singapore Airlines had already confirmed their passage. While this fact still needs to be heard and established by adequate proof before the RTC, an action based on these allegations will not fall under the Warsaw Convention, since the purported negligence on the part of PAL did not occur during the performance of the contract of carriage but days before the scheduled flight. Thus, the present action cannot be dismissed based on the statute of limitations provided under Article 29 of the Warsaw Convention.

Had the present case merely consisted of claims incidental to the airlines' delay in transporting their passengers, the private respondent's Complaint would have been time-barred under Article 29 of the Warsaw Convention. However, the present case involves a special species of injury resulting from the failure of PAL and/or Singapore Airlines to transport private respondent from Singapore to Jakarta - the profound distress, fear, anxiety and humiliation that private respondent experienced when, despite PAL's earlier assurance that Singapore Airlines confirmed his passage, he was prevented from boarding the plane and he faced the daunting possibility that he would be stranded in Singapore Airport because the PAL office was already closed.

These claims are covered by the Civil Code provisions on tort, and not within the purview of the Warsaw Convention. Hence, the applicable prescription period is that provided under Article 1146 of the Civil Code:
Art. 1146. The following actions must be instituted within four years:

(1) Upon an injury to the rights of the plaintiff;

(2) Upon a quasi-delict.
Private respondent's Complaint was filed with the RTC on 15 August 1997, which was less than four years since PAL received his extrajudicial demand on 25 January 1994. Thus, private respondent's claims have not yet prescribed and PAL's Motion to Dismiss must be denied.

Moreover, should there be any doubt as to the prescription of private respondent's Complaint, the more prudent action is for the RTC to continue hearing the same and deny the Motion to Dismiss. Where it cannot be determined with certainty whether the action has already prescribed or not, the defense of prescription cannot be sustained on a mere motion to dismiss based on what appears to be on the face of the complaint.[24] And where the ground on which prescription is based does not appear to be indubitable, the court may do well to defer action on the motion to dismiss until after trial on the merits.[25]

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the instant Petition is DENIED. The assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 48664, promulgated on 17 August 2001 is AFFIRMED.Costs against the petitioner.


Ynares-Santiago, (Chairperson), Austria-Martinez, Nachura, and Reyes, JJ., concur.

[1] Penned by Associate Justice Alicia L. Santos with Associate Justices Ramon A. Barcelona and Mercedes Gozo-Dadole, concurring. Rollo, pp. 39-46.

[2] Penned by Judge Adriano S. Savillo. CA rollo, pp. 29-31.

[3] CA rollo, p. 33.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 34.

[7] Id.

[8] Id. at 37-40.

[9] Section 1. Grounds. Within the time for but before filing the answer to the complaint or pleading asserting a claim, a motion to dismiss may be made on any of the following grounds:
x x x x
(f) That the cause of action is barred by a prior judgment or by the Statute of Limitations.
x x x x

[10] The official title of the Warsaw Convention is "The Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air," 12 October 1929. In the case of the Philippines, the Warsaw Convention was concurred in by the Senate, through Resolution No. 19, on 16 May 1950. The Philippine instrument of accession was signed by President Elpidio Quirino on 13 October 1950 and was deposited with the Polish Government on 9 November 1950. The Convention became applicable to the Philippines on 9 February 1951. On 23 September 1955, President Ramon Magsaysay issued Proclamation No. 201, declaring the Philippines' formal adherence thereto, "to the end that the same and every article and clause thereof may be observed and fulfilled in good faith by the Republic of the Philippines and the citizens thereof." (Mapa v. Court of Appeals, 341 Phil. 281, 295-296 [1997].)

[11] Article 29. (1) The right to damages shall be extinguished if an action is not brought within two years, reckoned from the date of arrival at the destination, or from the date on which the aircraft ought to have arrived, or from the date on which the carriage stopped.

(2) The method of calculating the period of limitation shall be determined by the law of the court to which the case is submitted.

[12] CA rollo, pp. 29-31.

[13] The following actions must be brought within ten years from the time the right of action accrues:
(1) Upon a written contract;
(2)Upon an obligation created by law;
(3) Upon a judgment.

[14] Rollo, pp. 14-17.

[15] Id. at 25.

[16] Pennington v. British Airways, 275 F.Supp. 2d 601, 11 July 2003.

[17] Robertson v. American Airlines, 277 F.Supp. 2d 91, 18 August 2003.

[18] 376 Phil. 688 (1999).

[19] 474 F. Supp. 532, 28 June 1979.

[20] 821 F. 2d 442, 12 June 1987.

[21] CA rollo, p. 34.

[22] Art 2176. Whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, there being fault or negligence, is obliged to pay for the damage done. Such fault or negligence, if there is no pre-existing contractual relation between parties, is called a quasi-delict and is governed by the provisions of this Chapter.
Art.19. Every person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.
Art. 21. Any person who willfully causes loss or injury to another in a manner that is contrary to morals, good customs or public policy shall compensate the latter for the damage.

[23] 41 F. 3d 535, 1 December 1994.

[24] Sison v. McQuaid, 94 Phil 201, 203-204 (1953).

[25] Cordova v. Cordova, 102 Phil 1182 (1958).

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