BY ASHZEL HACHERO and RAYMOND AFRICA
AFTER nearly two decades, a Quezon City Regional Trial Court has found the Quezon City government liable for the Payatas dumpsite landslide tragedy that buried more than 300 residents in July 2000.
In a 133-page decision, Quezon City RTC Branch 97 Judge Marilou Runes-Tamang faulted the city government for the “improper and irresponsible dumping of waste” which led to the deaths of the victims.
Tamang ordered the payment of a total of P6 million to the legal heirs of 59 of the landslide victims, with each getting compensation broken down as follows: P50, 000 in temperate damages, P50, 000 in moral damages and P10, 000 in exemplary damages.
The city government was also directed to pay P100,000 in attorneys’ fees.
Tamang refrained from awarding compensation for actual damages, pointing out that there was no evidence of the prior existence of the buried properties of the claimants.
The decision was promulgated on October 30, 2019 but was only released on Thursday, January 16.
“The Court renders judgment declaring defendant Quezon City government liable to the legal heirs of the deceased victims. The mountain-like trash in itself is a testament of the city government’s negligence in the management and operation of the said dumpsite,” part of the decision stated.
“The improper and irresponsible dumping of garbage thereby creating a mountain-like pile of wastes is the proximate cause of the violent death of the victims and the loss of personal and real properties,” it added.
Proximate cause is defined in past Supreme Court jurisprudences as negligence that produces an event without which the event would not have occurred.
The QC court said that while the defendant was correct in its argument that the victims assumed the risk by refusing to be relocated to safer places, it was “not sufficient to relieve the city government of Quezon City of any liability.”
The city government was headed at the time by former mayor Ismael Mathay Jr.
The court ruling stressed that the local government of Quezon City was “duty-bound to establish, maintain, operate, manage, supervise and control a waste disposal facility within its jurisdiction” but lamented that “the mere fact that they maintained a mountain-like pile of garbage within their jurisdiction is a crushing proof of its gross negligence.”
“Indeed, allowing the heaps of garbage to rise to such immense height clearly demonstrates the city government’s negligence. Moreover, endangering the lives and limbs of the people in Payatas unquestionably amounts to gross negligence,” it ruled.
It likewise pointed out had the city government “exercised due care expected of them, they could not have allowed the garbage to rise to such unprecedented height as to resemble several Meralco posts arranged on top of each other or several storeys-high of a building.”
In seeking court damages, the complainants alleged that a “huge and strong inferno-like garbage avalanche” buried more than 300 people alive in the morning of July 10, 2000, the date of the fateful incident.
In the same ruling, the court cleared the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Tofemi Realty Corporation and Meteor Company, Inc., which owned the land used as the dumpsite; and Ren Transport, one of the garbage haulers in Payatas.
The MMDA was then chaired by former vice president and Makati City mayor Jejomar Binay.
The QC court said the complainants failed to prove by preponderance of evidence that MMDA exercised control, supervision and management of the Payatas open dumpsite.
“No evidence was presented that the MMDA had the authority or duty to minimize the adverse effects of dumping operations on people and communities near the dumpsite,” it ruled.
As to Tofemi and Meteor Company, the court said it was clear that their role was limited to owning the lot and leasing the same to the city government to be used as a dumpsite and that merely allowing its lot to be used as dump site does not mean that it commanded, instigated, promoted, advised, countenanced or aided the commission of the incident.
“Likewise, no preponderant proof was presented that they participated in the joint management, supervision and control of the open dumpsite,” it said.
Ren Transport, the court said, it was just one of the many haulers of garbage to the site and that fact did not necessarily mean that it enjoyed exclusive and uninterrupted use of the properties as alleged in the complaint.