G.R. No. L-47822
December 22, 1988
Ernesto Cendana, a junk dealer, was engaged in buying up used bottles and scrap metal in Pangasinan.
Sometime in November 1970, Pedro de Guzman, a merchant & authorized dealer of General Milk Company (Philippines), Inc., contracted with Cendana for the hauling of 750 cartons of Liberty filled milk from a warehouse of General Milk in Makati, to De Guzman’s establishment in Urdaneta on or before December 4, 1970. Accordingly, on December 1, 1970, Cendana loaded in Makati the merchandise on to his trucks: 150 cartons were loaded on a truck driven by respondent himself, while 600 cartons were placed on board the other truck which was driven by his driver and employee, Manuel Estrada.
However, only 150 boxes of Liberty filled milk were delivered to De Guzman. The other 600 boxes were not delivered, since the truck which carried these boxes was hijacked somewhere along the MacArthur Highway in Paniqui, Tarlac, by armed men who took with them the truck, its driver, his helper and the cargo.
On January 6, 1971, De Guzman commenced action against Cendana in the Court of First Instance of Pangasinan, demanding payment of the claimed value of the lost merchandise (P22,150.00), plus damages & attorney’s fees. He argued that Cendana, being a common carrier, and having failed to exercise the extraordinary diligence required of him by the law, should be held liable for the value of the undelivered goods. In his Answer, Cendana denied that he was a common carrier & argued that he could not be held responsible for the value of the lost goods since such loss was due to force majeure.
On December 10, 1975, the trial court found Cendana to be a common carrier & held him liable for the value of the undelivered goods (P22,150.00) as well as for P4,000 as damages & P 2,000 as attorney’s fees.
Respondent appealed before the CA. The CA then reversed the judgment of the trial court & held that respondent had been engaged in transporting return loads of freight “as acasual occupation — a sideline to his scrap iron business” and not as a common carrier.
1. WON Cendana may be properly characterized as a common carrier;
2. WON the hijacking of respondent’s truck constitutes force majeure; and
3. What are the specific requirements of the duty of extraordinary diligence in the vigilance over the goods carried in the specific context of hijacking or armed robbery.
1. The Civil Code defines “common carriers” in the following terms:
Article 1732. Common carriers are persons, corporations, firms or associations engaged in the business of carrying or transporting passengers or goods or both, by land, water, or air for compensation, offering their services to the public.
The above article makes no distinction between one whose principal business activity is the carrying of persons/goods/both, and one who does such carrying only as an ancillary activity (in local Idiom as “a sideline”). It also carefully avoids making any distinction between a person/enterprise offering transportation service on a regular/scheduled basis and one offering such service on an occasional/episodic/unscheduled basis. It does not distinguish between a carrier offering its services to the “general public,” and one who offers services/solicits business only from a narrow segment of the general population.
Cendena is properly characterized as a common carrier even though he merely “back hauled” goods for other merchants from Manila to Pangasinan, on a periodic/occasional rather than regular/scheduled manner, and even though it was not his principal occupation. There is no dispute that private respondent charged his customers a fee for hauling their goods.
A certificate of public convenience is not a requisite for the incurring of liability under the Civil Code provisions governing common carriers. That liability arises the moment a person/firm acts as a common carrier, regardless of such carrier’s compliance with the requirements of the applicable regulatory statute and implementing regulations and has been granted a certificate of public convenience or other franchise. To exempt private respondent from the liabilities of a common carrier because he has not secured the necessary certificate of public convenience, would be offensive to sound public policy; that would be to reward private respondent precisely for failing to comply with applicable statutory requirements. The business of a common carrier impinges directly and intimately upon the safety, well being & property of those members of the general community who happen to deal with such carrier. The law imposes duties & liabilities upon common carriers for the safety & protection of those who utilize their services and the law cannot allow a common carrier to render such duties and liabilities merely facultative by simply failing to obtain the necessary permits and authorizations.
2. Common carriers, “by the nature of their business and for reasons of public policy” are held to a very high degree of care & diligence in the carriage of goods as well as of passengers. The specific import of extraordinary diligence in the care of goods transported by a common carrier is, according to Article 1733, “further expressed in Articles 1734,1735 and 1745, numbers 5, 6 and 7″ of the Civil Code.
Article 1734 establishes the general rule that common carriers are responsible for the loss, destruction or deterioration of the goods which they carry, “unless the same is due to any of the following causes only:
(1) Flood, storm, earthquake, lightning or other natural disaster or calamity;
(2) Act of the public enemy in war, whether international or civil;
(3) Act/omission of the shipper/owner of the goods;
(4) The character of the goods/defects in the packing or-in the containers; and
(5) Order/act of competent public authority.
Causes falling outside the foregoing list, even if they appear to constitute a species of force majeure fall within the scope of Article 1735, which provides as follows:
In all cases other than those mentioned in numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the preceding article, if the goods are lost, destroyed or deteriorated, common carriers are presumed to have been at fault or to have acted negligently, unless they prove that they observed extraordinary diligence as required in Article 1733.
The hijacking of the carrier’s truck does not fall within any of the 5 categories of exempting causes listed in Article 1734. Therefore, it would follow that the hijacking of the carrier’s vehicle must be dealt with under the provisions of Article 1735 – that the Cendana as common carrier is presumed to have been at fault or to have acted negligently. However, this presumption may be overthrown by proof of extraordinary diligence on Cendana’s part.
3. Article 1745 provides in relevant part:
Any of the following or similar stipulations shall be considered unreasonable, unjust and contrary to public policy:
xxx xxx xxx
(5) that the common carrier shall not be responsible for the acts or omissions of his or its employees;
(6) that the common carrier’s liability for acts committed by thieves, or of robbers who do not act with grave or irresistible threat, violence or force, is dispensed with or diminished; and
(7) that the common carrier shall not responsible for the loss, destruction or deterioration of goods on account of the defective condition of the car vehicle, ship, airplane or other equipment used in the contract of carriage. (Emphasis supplied)
Under Article 1745 (6) above, a common carrier is held responsible — and will not be allowed to divest or to diminish such responsibility — even for acts of strangers like thieves or robbers, except where such thieves or robbers in fact acted “with grave or irresistible threat, violence or force.” The limits of the duty of extraordinary diligence in the vigilance over the goods carried are reached where the goods are lost as a result of a robbery which is attended by “grave or irresistible threat, violence or force.”
The record shows that an information for robbery in band was filed in the CFI of Tarlac, Branch 2, entitled “People of the Philippines v. Felipe Boncorno, Napoleon Presno, Armando Mesina, Oscar Oria and one John Doe.” There, the accused were charged with willfully and unlawfully taking & carrying away with them the 2nd truck, driven by Manuel Estrada and loaded with the 600 cartons of Liberty filled milk destined for delivery at De Guzman’s store in Urdaneta, Pangasinan. The trial court decision shows that the accused acted with grave, if not irresistible, threat, violence or force. 3 of the 5 hold-uppers were armed with firearms. The robbers not only took away the truck & its cargo but also kidnapped the driver & his helper, detaining them for several days and later releasing them in another province. The hijacked truck was subsequently found by the police in Quezon City. The CFI convicted all the accused of robbery, though not of robbery in band.
The occurrence of the loss must reasonably be regarded as quite beyond the control of the common carrier & properly regarded as a fortuitous event. It is necessary to recall that even common carriers are not made absolute insurers against all risks of travel & of transport of goods, and are not held liable for acts/events which cannot be foreseen/inevitable, provided that they shall have complied with the rigorous standard of extraordinary diligence.
Thus, Cendana cannot be held liable for the value of the undelivered merchandise which was lost because of an event entirely beyond private his control.