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SC adopts rules for maritime admiralty court

The Philippines will soon have an admiralty court for shipping cases to speed up the resolution of maritime disputes and to make the local shipping industry globally competitive.

In a historic first, the Supreme Court en banc has adopted and promulgated the Rules of Procedure for Admiralty Cases covering shipping.

The Special Committee for the Rules of Procedure for Admiralty Cases was headed by Supreme Court Associate Justices Diosdado M. Peralta and Alexander G. Gesmundo as the chairpman and Vice Chairman, respectively.

Justice Peralta was tasked by then-Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin to address procedural issues encountered in admiralty cases.

“A procedure that promotes the speedy and efficient resolution of admiralty cases, as well as courts that are up to speed with international norms, standards, and best practices, would help the Philippines become more progressive and competitive in the global shipping industry,” Peralta said.

The rules were drafted in consultation with the different stakeholders in the maritime industry.

The innovations from foreign jurisdictions were introduced, such as the arrest of a vessel, cargo or freight to secure a maritime claim, and the appointment of appraisers to determine a vessel or cargo’s value when sold to satisfy a final judgment.

The rules also established a special proceeding for limitation actions to facilitate the application of the “limited liability rule” under the Code of Commerce. In certain instances, ship owners may limit their liability for claims arising from marine casualties by constituting a limitation fund and abandoning their vessel.

A seafarer on watch

The rules would also include concepts proven to reduce trial time and speed up case resolution, such as prohibited pleadings and motions, continuous trial, and defined timelines for every stage of trial.

Former Rep. Jesulito Manalo of Angkla party-list has initiated the move to have an admiralty court because Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have produced an admiral court while the Philippines has none. He convinced the Supreme Court justices to create an admiralty court given the wide coverage of maritime laws.

“I told them that maritime is an international endeavor. The maritime law covers all facets of law from convention, treaties to trade, insurance, immigration, labor. After the discussion, all the justices said ‘Congressman, submit your paper and I’ll set up your pilot court of admiralty court,’ Manalo said.

“If ever we can set up an admiralty court, let it be the court that rules on the rule of law. Let it be the court that rules on knowledge, skills and Science. Because, I always say that science can rule the shipping industry. Why? Because if it’s not formulated well the ship will sink,” Manalo stressed.

He explained that shipping is based on physics, it’s based on engineering, it’s based on the buoyancy, and it’s based on the power of the engine. It’s also based on the insurance. It can be calculated. But everything involves seafaring — the human being that runs the vessel.

The Supreme Court would designate existing branches of the Regional Trial Courts as Admiralty courts which would have jurisdiction over all actions in Admiralty.

The rules would take effect on January 1, 2020 following its publication in the Official Gazette or in two papers of national circulation.

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