Tuesday, November 27, 2012

CHECKING OUT FOR GOOD: Liability of Hotels for a murdered guest

By Siesta-friendly

Back in November 2009, we talked about the Liabilities of Hotels and Inns and the applicable provisions - Articles 1998-2004 - of the Civil Code. The Civil Code only covers liability for personal effects, not personal security and safety. But at the end of our piece, we mentioned the then recent Court of Appeals decision (affirming the Quezon City Regional Trial Court’s judgment) ordering the Makati Shangri-la hotel to pay actual and compensatory damages, inter alia, to the heirs of a guest who was murdered in the hotel.

Well, the Supreme Court just affirmed said Court of Appeals decision. It is worth noting that for a death which occurred in 1999, the final decision of the Supreme Court came out in 2012, a span of more than eleven (11) years.   Justice here has been long delayed.

The petitioners sought relief before the Supreme Court when the Court of Appeals ruled against them. 

It is interesting to note the main rationale in both courts’ decisions.  The Supreme Court succinctly states its decision in its introductory line[1] -

“The hotel owner is liable for civil damages to the surviving heirs of its hotel guest whom strangers murder inside his hotel room.”

So how could the hotel be liable despite the lack of any legal provision applying squarely to the facts of the case?  Negligence.  And the CA was able to determine that the proximate cause of the victim’s death was the hotel’s, and not the victim’s, negligence.

Let’s read the facts: The Makati Shangri-la’s closed circuit television (CCTV) tapes showed that the victim, Christian Fredrik Harper, “entered his room at 12:14 a.m. of November 6, 1999, and had been followed into the room at 12:17 a.m. by a woman; [and] that another person, a Caucasian male, had entered Harper’s room at 2:48 a.m.; that the woman had left the room at around 5:33 a.m.; and that the Caucasian male had come out at 5:46 a.m.”

Fast forward a few hours later:

“around 11:00 am … a Caucasian male of about 30–32 years in age, 5’4” in height, clad in maroon long sleeves, black denims and black shoes, entered [a jewelry store in] Makati City and expressed interest in purchasing a Cartier lady’s watch valued at P320,000.00 with the use of two Mastercard credit cards and an American Express credit card issued in the name of Harper. But the customer’s difficulty in answering the queries phoned in by a credit card representative sufficiently aroused the suspicion of [the] saleslady … who asked for the customer’s passport upon suggestion of the credit card representative to put the credit cards on hold. Probably sensing trouble for himself, the customer hurriedly left the store, and left the three credit cards and the passport behind.

In the meanwhile, Harper’s family in Norway must have called him at his hotel room to inform him about the attempt to use his American Express card. Not getting any response from the room, his family requested … the Duty Manager of the Shangri-La Hotel, to check on Harper’s room. Alarcon and a security personnel went to [the room] at 11:27 a.m., and were shocked to discover Harper’s lifeless body on the bed.”

On direct examination, the Makati Shangri-la’s then Chief Security Officer stated that “at the time he assumed his position as Chief Security Officer … he noticed that some of the floors of the hotel were being guarded by a few guards, for instance, 3 or 4 floors by one guard only on a roving manner” prompting him to make “a recommendation that the ideal-set up for an effective security should be one guard for every floor, considering that the hotel is L-shaped and the ends of the hallways cannot be seen. At the time he made the recommendation, the same was denied … as the hotel was not doing well and it was not fully booked so the existing security was adequate enough ...”  The “one guard, one floor” policy was put in place only after Harper’s murder. 

Turns out that “the male culprit who entered Christian Harper’s room was never checked by any of the guards when he came inside the hotel.” The guards also said that no one knew “said man entered the hotel and it was only through the monitor that they became aware of his entry. It was even evidenced by the CCTV that before he walked to the room of the late Christian Harper, said male suspect even looked at the monitoring camera. Such act of the man showing wariness, added to the fact that his entry to the hotel was unnoticed, at an unholy hour, should have aroused suspicion on the part of the roving guard in the said floor, had there been any.”

Further, “there were prior incidents that occurred in the hotel which should have forewarned the hotel management of the security lapses of the hotel. As testified to by Col. De Guzman, “there were ‘minor’ incidents” (loss of items) before the happening of the instant case.  The CA noted that the “minor” incidents may be of little significance to the hotel, yet relative to the instant case, it speaks volume [sic]. This should have served as a caveat that the hotel security has lapses.”

Based on the foregoing facts, the Court of Appeals held that the Makati Shangri-la “was negligent in providing adequate security due its guests” and did not exercise “reasonable care to protect its guests from harm and danger by providing sufficient security commensurate to it being one of the finest hotels in the country.”  

The CA stated that “the hotel business like the common carrier’s business is imbued with public interest. Catering to the public, hotelkeepers are bound to provide not only lodging for hotel guests but also security to their persons and belongings. The twin duty constitutes the essence of the business.”

This inadequate security was thus deemed the proximate cause of Harper’s murder as explained by the CA:  

“Proximate cause is defined as that cause, which, in natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by any efficient intervening cause, produces, the injury, and without which the result would not have occurred. More comprehensively, proximate cause is that cause acting first and producing the injury, either immediately or by setting other events in motion, all constituting a natural and continuous chain of events, each having a close causal connection with its immediate predecessor, the final event in the chain immediately effecting the injury as natural and probable result of the cause which first acted, under such circumstances that the person responsible for the first event should, as an ordinarily prudent and intelligent person, have reasonable ground to expect at the moment of his act or default that an injury to some person might probably result therefrom.”

In affirming the CA’s findings and judgment, the Supreme Court further stated that:

“Applying by analogy Article 2000, Article 2001 and Article 2002 of the Civil Code (all of which concerned the hotelkeepers’ degree of care and responsibility as to the personal effects of their guests), we hold that there is much greater reason to apply the same if not greater degree of care and responsibility when the lives and personal safety of their guests are involved. Otherwise, the hotelkeepers would simply stand idly by as strangers have unrestricted access to all the hotel rooms on the pretense of being visitors of the guests, without being held liable should anything untoward· befall the unwary guests. That would be absurd, something that no good law would ever envision.” 

Cost-cutting measures are understandable – even for 5-star hotels - but those that place someone’s personal safety and security at risk are never worth taking. Guests have an expectation that they will find safe repose in such places, and not an eternal one.

[1]  Makati Shangri-La Hotel and Resort, Inc., vs  Harper, et al., G.R. No. 189998, August 29, 2012.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Who Says Internet Libel Doesn’t Exist? (And where to file your internet libel case)

By Siesta-friendly

The issue in the case we want to tackle now is not whether or not something said was libel but whether or not the court had jurisdiction over the libel committed.  In this case, the alleged libelous material was found in a blog.[1]

As regards jurisdiction in libel cases, the relevant provision is found in the 2nd paragraph of Art. 360 of the Revised Penal Code (as amended by Republic Act 4363):

“The criminal and civil action for damages in cases of written defamations … shall be filed simultaneously or separately with the court of first instance of the province or city where the libelous article is printed and first published or where any of the offended parties actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense: Provided, however, … in case one of the offended parties is a private individual, the action shall be filed in the Court of First Instance of the province or city where he actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense or where the libelous matter is printed and first published...” [underline supplied]

The complainant in this case, a Jessie John P. Gimenez, filed, on behalf of the Yuchengco Family (former Ambassador Alfonso Yuchengco and Helen Y. Dee of the Malayan Insurance Co., Inc.), a criminal complaint before the Makati City Prosecutor’s Office, for 13 counts of libel against the officers of Parents Enabling Parents Coalition, Inc. (PEPCI), trustees of PEPCI, a member of PEPCI, and a certain John Doe, the administrator of the website www.pepcoalition.com.  Gimenez also alleged that PEPCI owned, controlled and moderated on the internet a blog at www.pacificnoplan.blogspot.com and a yahoo e-group at no2pep2010@yahoogroups.com, sites easily accessible to the public or by anyone logged on to the internet.

Gimenez claimed that when he accessed websites in Makati on various dates he “was appalled to read numerous articles [numbering 13], maliciously and recklessly caused to be published by [the accused] containing highly derogatory statements and false accusations, relentlessly attacking the Yuchengco Family, YGC, and particularly, Malayan.” For example:

“Talagang naisahan na naman tayo ng mga Yuchengcos.  Nangyari na ang mga kinatatakutan kong pagbagsak ng negotiation because it was done prematurely since we had not file any criminal aspect of our case.  What is worse is that Yuchengcos benefited much from the nego. x x x .  That is the fact na talagang hindi dapat pagtiwalaan ang mga Yuchengcos.

LET’S MOVE TO THE BATTLEFIELD.  FILE THE CRIMINAL CASES IN COURT, BSP AND AMLC AND WHEREVER.  Pumunta tayong muli sa senado, congreso, RCBC Plaza, and other venues to air our grievances and call for boycott ng YGC.  Let us start within ourselves.  Alisin natin ang mga investments and deposits natin sa lahat ng YGC and I mean lahat and again convince friends to do the same.  Yung mga nanonood lang noon ay dapat makisali na talaga ngayon specially those who joined only after knowing that there was a negotiation for amicable settlements.


The Makati City Prosecutor’s Office filed a complaint for libel but on appeal to the Department of Justice, the “Justice Secretary opined that the crime of “internet libel” was non-existent, hence, the accused could not be charged with libel under Article 353 of the RPC.”  This prompted the accused to file a Motion to Quash the Information “on the grounds that it failed to vest jurisdiction on the Makati RTC; the acts complained of in the Information are not punishable by law since internet libel is not covered by Article 353 of the RPC; and the Information is fatally defective for failure to designate the offense charged and the acts or omissions complained of as constituting the offense of libel.”

Unfortunately for the accused, the Court of Appeals found the complaint sufficient in form.

Fortunately for the accused, the Supreme Court held the opposite and said that - 

“… that the venue of libel cases where the complainant is a private individual is limited to only either of two places, namely: 1) where the complainant actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense; or 2) where the alleged defamatory article was printed and first published.  The Amended Information in the present case opted to lay the venue by availing of the second.  Thus, it stated that the offending article “was first published and accessed by the private complainant in Makati City.” In other words, it considered the phrase to be equivalent to the requisite allegation of printing and first publication.

The insufficiency of the allegations in the Amended Information to vest jurisdiction in Makati becomes pronounced upon an examination of the rationale for the amendment to Article 360 by RA No. 4363.  Chavez v. Court of Appeals [G.R. No. 125813, February 6, 2007, 514 SCRA 279, 285-286] explained the nature of these changes:


Before article 360 was amended, the rule was that a criminal action for libel may be instituted in any jurisdiction where the libelous article was published or circulated, irrespective of where it was written or printed (People v. Borja, 43 Phil. 618). Under that rule, the criminal action is transitory and the injured party has a choice of venue.

Experience had shown that under that old rule the offended party could harass the accused in a libel case by laying the venue of the criminal action in a remote or distant place.


To forestall such harassment, Republic Act No. 4363 was enacted. It lays down specific rules as to the venue of the criminal action so as to prevent the offended party in written defamation cases from inconveniencing the accused by means of out-of-town libel suits, meaning complaints filed in remote municipal courts (Explanatory Note for the bill which became Republic Act No. 4363, Congressional Record of May 20, 1965, pp. 424-5; Time, Inc. v. Reyes, L-28882, May 31, 1971, 39 SCRA 303, 311).”

Further, the Supreme Court noted that the phrase “where the libelous article is printed and first published’ cannot be applied to defamatory material appearing on a website on the internet as there would be no way of determining the situs of its printing and first publication.”

Before dismissing the case, the Supreme Court found cause to again cite the Chavez case and thereby instruct future complainants that 

“These limitations imposed on libel actions filed by private persons are hardly onerous, especially as they still allow such persons to file the civil or criminal complaint in their respective places of residence, in which situation there is no need to embark on a quest to determine with precision where the libelous matter was printed and first published.”

It’s weird that some people have said we don’t have internet libel in the Philippines because the Supreme Court has even instructed us (in this Yuchengco case) where victims can file such a case. 

[1]  Bonifacio v. RTC of Makati, GR No. 184800, May 5, 2010.