'349' CASE VS. PEPSI REVIVED BY SUPREME COURT
Manila, Nov. 6, 1998- The Supreme Court has ordered the Makati Regional Trial Court to resume trial of the celebrated '349' case versus softdrinks giant Pepsi Cola Products Philippines Inc. and its parent company Pepsico Inc.
The high court reversed an earlier ruling of the Court of Appeals dismissing the complaint due to failure of the claimants to answer questionnaires that sought to establish their right to litigate as paupers.
The questionnaires were sent by Pepsi in 1994 to determine the complainants' eligibility to litigate as paupers. The lower court suspended its proceedings until all of the complainants had filled up the forms. However, majority of the complainants thought the court had suspended the case altogether and did not fill up the forms, prompting Pepsi to ask the court to dismiss the case, which the lower court granted. The Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's ruling.
The Supreme Court, overturning the Court of Appeals, ruled that the complainants' failure to answer the questionnaires was not the main issue.
The ruling explained that it would be unjust to dismiss the '349' case against Pepsi for a mistake committed in good faith. It noted that the dismissal of the complaint was "a drastic action to take for failure to answer questions dealing with ancillary matters and not with the main issues in the case."
"Their failure to answer the written interrogatories was due, not to intransigence, but to misapprehension of the scope of the trial court's order. They thought that the court's order had the effect of suspending all matters connected with the case, including answering the written interrogatories," the Supreme Court added.
"The trial court should have required them to answer the interrogatories with a warning of possible consequences if they did not comply. The dismissal would be justified only in the event that they bucked such an order," the high court said.
The '349' case against the softdrink company arose from a televised announcement of a million pesos to the holder of Pepsi bottle cap with the number '349' under the cork. When thousands of '349' bottle cap owners showed up at Pepsi Cola offices, the company explained that there had been a mistake, that the number '349' should not have been read as the winner.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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