From badly-run, Sulpicio Lines now borders on madly-run
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-07-10
To say that Sulpicio Lines Inc (SLI) is badly-run is to utter an understatement. Its track record of sea disasters speaks volumes of how much wanting the maritime company is for better management, not to mention public relations.

Now, one gets the impression that SLI is not just badly-run but is madly-run. Its reactions to the sinking of the MV Princess of the Stars and the public outcry that the sea tragedy spawned defy corporate logic.

In a surprise move, SLI filed a case against Pagasa. Now tell me — have you ever encountered any such case having been filed before? I haven’t.

The case against Pagasa makes it look as if the weather man has a direct hand in the operations of the maritime firm, as if Pagasa decides whether the vessels of SLI will sail or brave the typhoon. The validity of the case filed by SLI against Pagasa is doubted owing to the fact that other sea vessels heeded the weather reports and were able to seek shelter. Sailing into the vortex of Typhoon Frank would therefore appear as the result of a bad decision made by the captain or managers of the MV Princess of the Stars.

Then, SLI followed up their suit against Pagasa with one against the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) which is tasked to investigate the MV Princess of the Stars sea disaster.

Per the STAR July 8 news report, The SLI asked the Manila RTC to stop the BMI from further conducting an inquiry on the tragedy, alleging that the “current investigation of the tragedy is irregular, illegal, and null and void for want of jurisdiction and authority.”

“The Board Chairman has endeavored to display fairness but a majority of the members have already made up their minds as to the guilt of Sulpicio Lines even before the proceedings can be concluded,” said SLI.

The STAR news report added “that BMI’s lack of jurisdiction to investigate, aggravated by the failure of administrative due process resulting from pre-judgment, render imperative judicial intervention to rectify and prevent further harm and injury.”

How can a government Board of Marine Inquiry not be a legal fact-finding body to what is clearly a maritime tragedy?

SLI was reported to have suggested that the government agency MARINA should be conducting the inquiry. What has this sea disaster turned into? Does the shipping firm with the worst track record for sea disasters now have the right to select who ought to investigate it?

Is SLI shopping for a friendly forum? This does not make MARINA look good at all. That SLI prefers a MARINA inquiry would lead many suspicious minds out there to think that there may be something in MARINA that makes SLI comfortable.

As if the lawsuits filed against Pagasa and the BMI are not enough ‑ SLI also decided to sue Del Monte, the customer who shipped the Endosulfan that now threatens the environment in Romblon. SLI now faults Del Monte for allegedly not disclosing the danger posed by their shipment.

SLI’s biggest mistake has been to assign their lawyers, instead of their Corporate Communications team, to handle the crisis. Legal maneuvers do not necessarily equate to effective damage control.

However, SLI needs not just a good public relations manager to salvage what remains of its reputation. They seem to need the services of a top psychiatrist. SLI appears to be in an extreme state of denial and paranoia.

They are in denial because they can’t recognize and admit their failings in the making of the MV Princess of the Stars sea tragedy and want to blame everybody. Paranoia is when you think everybody is ganging up on you.

With all the signs pointing to SLI bad decisions as main causes for the MV Princess of the Stars sea tragedy, how can the BMI avoid asking the sharp questions to check if these first impressions are indeed factual?

If this case against the BMI ever prospers (trust our justice system to exceed itself in rendering “funny” decisions) — what will stop others from raising a similar impediment to any inquiry that could inconvenience them? No hearing will ever get to first base with a precedent like this.

But has SLI management even considered what the public will perceive out of all this? Do they really think that the public will buy these legal maneuvers hook line and sinker and think that SLI is the least guilty of all parties who are responsible for the Romblon sea disaster? Do they think that all Filipinos are stupid and are not capable of seeing through this?

Wouldn’t Filipinos think that SLI has panicked? Wouldn’t you think that SLI could be trying to divert attention from its culpability by pointing at others?

First, SLI sued Pagasa. Then they sued the BMI and Del Monte. Who will SLI sue next? God maybe? After all, that will be consistent with what they claimed — that this sea tragedy is an ACT OF GOD.

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