G.R. No. L-47822, 22 December 1988, 186 SCRA 612
Respondent Ernesto Cendaña, a junk dealer, was engaged in buying up used bottles and scrap metal in Pangasinan. Upon gathering sufficient quantities of such scrap material, respondent would bring such material to Manila for resale. He utilized two (2) six-wheeler trucks which he owned for hauling the material to Manila. On the return trip to Pangasinan, respondent would load his vehicles with cargo which various merchants wanted delivered to differing establishments in Pangasinan. For that service, respondent charged freight rates which were commonly lower than regular commercial rates.
Sometime in November 1970, petitioner Pedro de Guzman, a merchant and authorized dealer of General Milk Company (Philippines), Inc. in Urdaneta, Pangasinan, contracted with respondent for the hauling of 750 cartons of Liberty filled milk from a warehouse of General Milk in Makati, Rizal, to petitioner’s establishment in Urdaneta on or before 4 December 1970. Accordingly, on 1 December 1970, respondent 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 Manuel Estrada, respondent’s driver and employee.
Only 150 boxes of Liberty filled milk were delivered to petitioner. The other 600 boxes never reached petitioner, 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 6 January 1971, petitioner commenced action against private respondent in the Court of First Instance of Pangasinan, demanding payment of P22,150.00, the claimed value of the lost merchandise, plus damages and attorney’s fees. On December 10, 1975, the trial court rendered a Decision finding private respondent to be a common carrier and holding him liable for the value of the undelivered goods (P22,150.00) as well as for P4,000.00 as damages and P2,000.00 as attorney’s fees.
The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court and held that respondent had been engaged in transporting return loads of freight, as a casual occupation a sideline to his scrap iron business and not as a common carrier.
1. Whether or not the private respondent is considered a common carrier.
2. Whether or not the hijacking of respondent’s truck was force majeure.
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 or goods or both, and one who does such carrying only as an ancillary activity (in local idiom, as a sideline). Article 1732 also carefully avoids making any distinction between a person or enterprise offering transportation service on a regular or scheduled basis and one offering such service on an occasional, episodic or unscheduled basis. Neither does Article 1732 distinguish between a carrier offering its services to the general public i.e., the general community or population, and one who offers services or solicits business only from a narrow segment of the general population. We think that Article 1733 deliberately refrained from making such distinctions.
The concept of “common carrier” under Art. 1732 may be seen to coincide neatly with the notion of “public service” under the Public Service Act which states in section 13, par b, public service includes: xxx every person that now or hereafter may own, operate, manage, or control in the Philippines, for hire or compensation, with general or limited clientele, whether permanent, occasional or accidental, and done for general business purposes, any common carrier, railroad, street railway, traction railway, subway motor vehicle, either for freight or passenger, or both, with or without fixed route and whatever may be its classification, freight or carrier service of any class, express service, steamboat, or steamship line, pontines, ferries and water craft, engaged in the transportation of passengers or freight or both, shipyard, marine repair shop, wharf or dock, ice plant, ice-refrigeration plant, canal, irrigation system, gas, electric light, heat and power, water supply and power petroleum, sewerage system, wire or wireless communications systems, wire or wireless broadcasting stations and other similar public services. Xxx
Further, 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 or firm acts as a common carrier, without regard to whether or not such carrier has also complied with the requirements of the applicable regulatory statute and implementing regulations and has been granted a certificate of public convenience or other franchise.
2. The hijacking of the carrier’s truck does not fall within any of the five (5) categories of exempting causes in Art. 1734. Hence, the private respondent as common carrier is presumed to have been at fault or to have acted negligently. This presumption, however, may be overthrown by proof of extraordinary diligence on the part of private respondent.
However, 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 court believes and so holds that 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.
In the instant case, armed men held up the second truck owned by private respondent which carried petitioner’s cargo. The robbers not only took away the truck and its cargo but also kidnapped the driver and his helper, detaining them for several days and later releasing them in another province (in Zambales). In these circumstances, we hold that the occurrence of the loss must reasonably be regarded as quite beyond the control of the common carrier and 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 and of transport of goods, and are not held liable for acts or events which cannot be foreseen or are inevitable, provided that they shall have complied with the rigorous standard of extraordinary diligence.
*Case digest by Allain Jay Gumela, LLB-IV, Andres Bonifacio Law School, SY 2018-2019