G.R. No. 119602 – 342 SCRA 213 – Civil Law – General Principles – Conflict of Laws – Private International Law – Proof of Foreign Law – Processual Presumption
In the Orinoco River in Venezuela, it is a rule that ships passing through it must be piloted by pilots familiar to the river. Hence, in 1988 Captain Nicandro Colon, master of Philippine Roxas, a ship owned by Philippine President Lines, Inc. (PPL), obtained the services of Ezzar Vasquez, a duly accredited pilot in Venezuela to pilot the ship in the Orinoco River. Unfortunately, Philippine Roxas ran aground in the Orinoco River while being piloted by Vasquez. As a result, the stranded ship blocked other vessels. One such vessel was owned by Wildvalley Shipping Co., Ltd. (WSC). The blockade caused $400k worth of losses to WSC as its ship was not able to make its delivery. Subsequently, WSC sued PPL in the RTC of Manila. It averred that PPL is liable for the losses it incurred under the laws of Venezuela, to wit: Reglamento General de la Ley de Pilotaje and Reglamento Para la Zona de Pilotaje No 1 del Orinoco. These two laws provide that the master and owner of the ship is liable for the negligence of the pilot of the ship. Vasquez was proven to be negligent when he failed to check on certain vibrations that the ship was experiencing while traversing the river.
ISSUE: Whether or not Philippine President Lines, Inc. is liable under the said Venezuelan laws.
HELD: No. The two Venezuelan Laws were not duly proven as fact before the court. Only mere photocopies of the laws were presented as evidence. For a copy of a foreign public document to be admissible, the following requisites are mandatory:
(1) It must be attested by the officer having legal custody of the records or by his deputy; and
(2) It must be accompanied by a certificate by a secretary of the embassy or legation, consul general, consul, vice consular or consular agent or foreign service officer, and with the seal of his office.
And in case of unwritten foreign laws, the oral testimony of expert witnesses is admissible, as are printed and published books of reports of decisions of the courts of the country concerned if proved to be commonly admitted in such courts.
Failure to prove the foreign laws gives rise to processual presumption where the foreign law is deemed to be the same as Philippine laws. Under Philippine laws, PPL nor Captain Colon cannot be held liable for the negligence of Vasquez. PPL and Colon had shown due diligence in selecting Vasquez to pilot the vessel. Vasquez is competent and was a duly accredited pilot in Venezuela and in good standing when he was engaged.