|By Jerome Aning, Philippine Daily
Inquirer, Manila / Asia News NetworkMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sept. 17, 2012--MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) -- The Philippine Supreme Court has ordered a five-star Makati City hotel to pay more than 52 million pesos (US$1.24 million) in damages to the heirs of a Norwegian guest who was robbed and killed in his hotel room in 1999.
In a 28-page decision penned by Justice Lucas Bersamin, the high court's First Division denied for lack of merit the appeal of the Makati Shangri-La hotel of a Court of Appeals (CA) judgment in October 2009 that ordered the hotel to pay civil damages to the widow and son of 30-year-old Christian Fredrick Harper and their Filipino representative, Rigoberto Gillera.
CA affirmed QC court's ruling
The CA ruling affirmed with modification the October 2005 decision of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court and recomputed actual and compensatory damages at 52,078,702.50 pesos, temperate damages at 25,000 pesos and attorney's fees at 250,000 pesos.
"The Court concurs entirely with the findings and conclusions of the CA, which the Court regards to be thorough and supported by the records of the trial... In that regard, the factual findings of the trial court that are supported by the evidence on record, especially when affirmed by the CA, are conclusive on the Court," the Supreme Court ruled.
Concurring in the decision were division members Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Martin Villarama and Bienvenido Reyes.
The Supreme Court said the Makati Shangri-La was liable for damages due to its own negligence in failing to provide the basic and adequate security measures expected of a five-star hotel and that this omission was the proximate cause of Harper's death.
The justices also took note of the testimony of the hotel's security manager, who admitted during trial that the hotel was undermanned at the time of Harper's death because the place was only half-booked. Thus, the security manager said they saw no need to adopt a one-guard-per-floor policy.
The high court junked the hotel management's claims that being mere establishments, hotels were not insurers of the safety of their guests. Imbued with public interest
"The hotel business is imbued with public interest. Catering to the public, hotelkeepers are bound to provide not only lodgings for their guests but also security to the persons and belongings of their guests. The twin duty constitutes the essence of their business," the Supreme Court ruled.
"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," it added.
Victim bound, valuables missing
Harper, the business development manager for Asia of the engineering firm Alston Power Norway AS, came to Manila on an official trip. He was found dead in his room on the 14th floor of the luxury hotel on Nov. 6, 1999.
Harper's eyes, mouth, hands and feet were wrapped in packaging and electrical tape. His valuables-a laptop, undetermined amount of cash and credit cards-were missing.
The security cameras of the hotel showed that a male foreigner and a woman had entered Harper's room just after midnight.
Credit card left behind
The male suspect then tried to use Harper's credit card to purchase an expensive lady's watch at a jewelry store in a nearby mall on the same day but left the credit card and Harper's passport in haste when he failed to answer personal details to verify the identity of the cardholder.
The hotel management argued before the lower court that it was Harper who had been negligent in inviting the suspects into his room.
The suspects remain at large.
US$1 = 41.6 pesos
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