FAST BACKWARD: Compañia Maritima

Inside the old Sasa wharf, there used to be an iconic postwar building known to stevedores and customs brokers as the Davao office of Compañia Maritima, a shipping firm based in Manila but with extended branches in many areas of the Philippine archipelago.

Founded in 1890 using the combined business interests of British Neil MacLeod, the company later acquired the assets of its competitors such that by 1894 it had expanded its capital to US$2.5 million, the equivalent of US$68.854 million in 2017.

Seven years later, despite the outbreak of the Philippine-American War, Compañia Maritima burgeoned to become a fleet of 19 steamers with a total of 13,400 tons. Its presence in nearly all ports of call throughout the islands was also visible.

In 1912, brothers Jose and Ramon J. Fernandez purchased the shipping line which became one of the most successful pre-war shipping ventures in the country. For 27 years, the firm was managed by Jose but was taken over by Ramon in 1939 following his brother’s death.

Ramon, an electrical engineer who graduated in London, originally worked in San Miguel Brewery’s electrical lighting system (1901) and later with Fernandez Hermanos (1904), the company the brothers founded.

On March 4, 1920, he was appointed him mayor of Manila, and in October 1023 won as senator of the fourth senatorial district. He also published El Debate, La Opinion, and Pagkakaisa.

As the shipping line expanded, the Fernandez brothers decided to open the Manila-Davao route. To realize this, they recruited Feliciano Iñigo, a graduate in Medicine, to assume the position of general agent of Compañia Maritima in Davao.

Part of Iñigo‘s job was to handle the cargo transactions and the land acquisitions of the shipping outfit. Through his business acumen, he later acquired a sprawling 273-hectare estate in Davao City known as Bago Iñigo Estate.

Just before the war, two vessels, namely Bohol and Basilan, were dedicated for the Davao-Manila route, with stops in different ports that included Cebu, Maribojoc (Bohol), Zamboanga, Cotabato, Talomo (Davao City), and Daliao (Toril, Davao City).

As colorful as its pre-war history, the shipping company was embroiled in trouble following the numerous legal battles it had to fight, the most celebrated of which was its case against the Insurance Company of North America (ICNA), which was resolved in the US firm’s favor.

The facts of the case, docketed as G.R. No. L-18965 and decided en banc by the Supreme Court on 30 October 1964, showed that in October, 1952, Macleod and Co., Philippines branch, contracted the shipping line by telephone for the shipment of 2,645 bales of hemp from the client’s private pier at Sasa, Davao City for transport to Manila. From there, the cargo would be subsequently transhipped to Boston, Massachusetts, USA, on board S.S. Steel Navigator.

The verbal agreement “was later on confirmed by a formal and written booking issued by Macleod’s branch office in Sasa and hand carried to Compañia Maritima’s branch office in Davao in compliance with which the latter sent to Macleod’s private wharf LCT Nos. 1023 and 1025 on which the loading of the hemp was completed on October 29, 1952.”

Court records show the vessels had their respective patron and assistant patron. The patron of both lighters dispensed with corresponding carrier’s receipts. The patron of Barge No. 1025, for one, issued a receipt in behalf of S.S. Bowline Knot, the Compañia Maritima ship from Davao, stating in good order and condition the goods from Macleod and Co., which would be trans-shipped at Manila on board S.S. Steel Navigator with Boston as final destination.

As fate would have it, on the night of 29 October 1952, or the early hours of 30 October 30, LCT No. 1025 sank, resulting in the damage or loss of 1,162 bales of hemp it loaded. Macleod punctually notified the carrier’s Manila office and its Davao branch advising them of the liability. The ruined hemp, meanwhile, was brought to Odell Plantation, in Madaum, Tagum City, to be cleaned, washed, reconditioned, and redried.

For a period of fifteen days, the shipping line’s trucks and lighters hauled from the planttion to the Macleod office at Sasa a total of 2,197.75 piculs of the reconditioned hemp out of the original cargo of 1,162 bales weighing 2,324 piculs worth P116,835.

“After reclassification,” court records show, “the value of the reconditioned hemp was reduced to P84,887.28, or a loss in value of P31,947.72. Adding to this last amount the sum of P8,863.30 representing Macleod’s expenses in checking, grading, rebaling, and other fees for washing, cleaning and redrying [valued at] P19,610.00, the total loss adds up to P60,421.02.”

Given the shipments of Macleod & Co. were insured with the ICNA against all losses and damages, it filed a claim of loss and was paid PhP64,018.55, as noted down in a document that also served as a “subrogation agreement between Macleod and the insurance company wherein the former assigned to the latter its rights over the insured and damaged cargo.”

For failure to recover from Compañia Maritima the amount of P60,421.021, the only amount supported by receipts, ICNA instituted a legal action and won in the Court of First Instance, which ordered the carrier to pay the insurance company, with legal interest and costs.

The shipping firm elevated the decision but it was sustained by the Court of Appeals on 14 December 1960. In its ruling dated 30 October 1964, the high tribunal ruled “the decision appealed from is affirmed, with costs against” Compañia Maritima.