The Philippines is an unfriendly country to class suits - Katrina Legarda

KAT'S EYE | KATRINA LEGARDA, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Oct 15 2008 11:06 AM | Updated as of Feb 20 2009 01:17 AM

It is very scary to have children today. It is particularly scary when the world's financial markets are falling like flies, and all of us who will be hurt by the collateral damage are scrambling to look for cheaper milk, food, clothes, medicine, and shelter. 

Last year, China was in trouble because of their cheap and shoddy goods that caused harm to the Caucasian consumers. If you remember, a lot of children were hurt by toys made in China. This year, it is melamine in milk products made in China that are killing Chinese babies. What will it be next year? 
 
Meantime, China produces the cheapest food in the world market. Of course it is cheap, they don't pay their workers with “real cash”; they just ensure that their workers have something to eat everyday, have somewhere to sleep everyday, and can send their children to school everyday. At least, that is how one factory that we visited in China did it ten years ago. 
 
What if you are one of those affected by tainted food products? What can you do in this country? 
 
Well, the Consumer Protection Act penalizes manufacturers and producers who make or distribute hazardous products the princely sum of 1,000 pesos. But you are dead na ha. Oh, and that person can be imprisoned pala for a period of two months, but not more than one year. If he is a foreigner, he can be deported. But you are dead na ha. Isn't this absolutely ridiculous? 
 
In the United States, law firms make money filing class suits on behalf of victims of toxic waste, or drugs that cause injury to fetuses, or cars that have bad steering columns. 
 
Do you remember Erin Brokovich, famously portrayed by Julia Roberts? A true story. 
 
In the Philippines, a group of consumers filed a case against Pepsi-Cola a few years ago because of the controversy over winning numbers inside bottle caps. You remember? 
 
Today, four media organizations and more than 30 individual media practitioners have filed class suits to stop threats of further arrests of journalists covering emergency situations. 
 
A class suit is filed under our Rules on Civil Procedure, which allows a class suit to be filed “When the subject matter of the controversy is one of common or general interest to many persons so numerous that it is impracticable to join all as parties, a number of them which the court finds to be sufficiently numerous and representative as to fully protect the interests of all concerned may sue or defend for the benefit of all. Any party in interest shall have the right to intervene to protect his individual interest.”
 
Our country is not a place to file class suits. We do not have the money to hire experts who can conduct the necessary private investigation into hazardous or toxic drugs. We do not have the money to pay for the filing fees which will be enormous since damages will be sought. 
 
In fact, our courts are not too familiar with class suits, and that was made painfully obvious by the length of time it took for the Pepsi case to proceed through the judicial minefield.
 
The class suit is an inherently American concept. Wikipedia describes a class suit as follows: “In law, a class action or a representative action is a form of lawsuit where a large group of people collectively bring a claim to court. 
 
This form of collective lawsuit originated in the United States and is still predominately a US phenomenon, at least the US variant of it. However, in several European countries with civil law (as opposed to the Anglo-Saxon common law principle, which is used by US courts), changes have in recent years been made that allow consumer organisations to bring claims on behalf of large groups of consumers.” 
 
In 1998, Richard Bruner pointed out that in America, “the most frequently sued companies are in the "high tech" industry and most lawsuits are brought in California. In the period between Dec. 22, 1995 and Sept. 9, 1998, 438 companies (not all in high-tech) have been sued in federal courts.” 
 
One particular lawyer has apparently cornered “more than 80 percent market share (of such lawsuits) in California and 50 percent nationwide.” The same author is wary of lawyers who make money out of class suits. (In America, they are not paid up-front. They are paid on a contingent basis, and can earn millions of dollars if juries award millions of dollars to victims who banded together in a class suit.). Mr. Bruner said: “They would say they're protecting the interests of widows and orphans from these corporations who routinely commit securities fraud." Forbes magazine has called these kinds of lawyers “buccaneers.”
 
Now, why (in my opinion only ha) will class suits not work in the Philippines? 
 
First, the damage given by the Supreme Court for a death is 50,000.00 pesos. Hello? To get more damages, you must prove how much you were earning before the injury, how long you could have continued to work without the injury, and how long you could have lived a fruitful life without the injury. 
 
Even then, as you have read in the reports about the damages paid by Claudio Teehankee, Jr. to the families of his victims, the courts do not give more than ten million pesos. Trust me, most of this amount will be used to pay your lawyers, your experts, court fees such as transcript of stenographic notes, sheriff's costs, filing fees, and your stress. 
 
What is a consumer to do?
 
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