Justice vs Mercy

Everyone — and the members of the Court are no exception — deplores that tragedy that claimed so many unsuspecting victims in what has been described, to repeat, as ‘the worst single -disaster’ in maritime history. Everyone condoles and symphatizes with those whom the victims, both known and unknown, left behind, many of whom were denied even the small consolation of being able to bury their dead. Everyone undoubtedly hopes and wishes that these survivors may quickly obtain adequate recompense for the untimely loss of their loved ones. But sympathy and commiseration however well-deserved, are not considerations that would justifiably argue for bending or dispensing with the observance of the rules which prescribe now such vindication may be obtained in the courts of law.

Re: Request of Plaintiffs

A.M. No. 88-1-646-0 March 3, 1988

The context of the aforementioned quote was the 1987 sinking of the passenger vessel, MV Dona Paz, en route from Manila to Tacloban City in the province of Leyte. This passenger ship with around 1,500 person approved capacity, was extremely overloaded with around 1,800 passengers as stated in the manifest, and around 3,200 undocumented passengers. Cruising in the middle of the night, the ship came into contact and crashed with an oil tanker. All of the 4,000 passengers of the ship perished in what has been described as the worst maritime disaster in Philippine history. This case was a petition for a class action against the owners of the ship.

I love looking into court documents as primary sources for history writing. It not only narrates the events and circumstances of the case, but it reveals how the most esteemed magistrates of the land think about the pertinent issues surrounding the administration of law. While the court sympathizes with the victims, the rule of law still should not be clouded with overwhelming emotions. Reason, above all, should remain steadfast to the dictates of the law.

This quote reminded me of the Shakespearean duality between justice and mercy: that as defined by Shylock (“My deeds upon my head, I crave the law.”) and of Portia (“The quality of mercy is not strained”). As magistrates of the law, what are they supposed to dispense, justice or mercy?

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