The price of playing god

Anthony Chua

One thing that an intellectually sound and a God-fearing person won’t do is to cover one’s mistake by finding fault in others. Another thing is to blame nature and her “wrath” for an accident that should have been prevented if the necessary precautionary measures were done and conscientious judgment was executed.

These were the very acts that Sulpicio Lines, the operator of four capsized ships that killed thousands in the last 21 years, has committed in filing a class suit against the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) for the latter’s “inaccurate weather bulletin.”

In the suit, the ship operator claims that PAGASA “willfully and maliciously” forecasted typhoon “Frank’s” erratic movement. For this irresponsible reporting, Sulpicio demands P4.4 million from PAGASA, which includes moral damages and payment for loss of goodwill in the company (Sulpicio). Aside from the P4.4 million, Sulpicio also demands a public admission of PAGASA officials’ blunder, which the management believed was the cause of the MV Princess of the Stars tragedy.

Weather forecasting is a tricky science. Just like a person’s temperament, a storm’s movement is sometimes inconsistent. Science may be able to forecast a typhoon’s path using the most sophisticated gadgets; but again, just like a person’s mood, no one can accurately predict what it will do next. Based on this scientific principle, PAGASA’s forecast on the storm’s intensity or movement will always be prone to changes and irregularities. PAGASA is not an agency of gods.

This, however, does not totally absolve PAGASA from the shocking mishap that killed more than 800 people. PAGASA might have better warned Sulpicio and the Princess’ captain if they were able to update their weather bulletin in a shorter span of time.

But still, for Sulpicio to blame PAGASA after the latter had already warned the shipping line and the entire Philippine nation that it was signal no. 1 in the Princess’ departure area and signal no. 2 in the ship’s destination point at the time the ship sailed is absurd.

Didn’t Sulpicio learn from their own catastrophic experiences that typhoons with the size, magnitude, and behavior as “Frank” can be ruthless to their ships especially so if they are loaded with toxic chemicals like endosulfan? Why make the same blunder, which had already wasted hundreds of lives and millions of pesos, of sailing ships despite raised storm signals from PAGASA thrice?

And now, aside from paying for the insurance of the passengers of the hapless Princess, Sulpicio has yet to answer for the destruction that their sunken ship had done to the fishing industry of Romblon – the province where the once mighty vessel, carrying containers of toxic pesticides – capsized. The ship operator could have avoided this sea tragedy had it refrained from playing god and ignoring PAGASA’s weather forecasts.

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