Luzon Stevedoring v. Public Service Commission (G.R. No. L-5458)

Facts:

Petitioners are corporations mainly engaged in the stevedoring or lighterage and harbor towage business. At the same time, they are also engaged in interisland service which consists of hauling cargoes such as sugar, oil, fertilizer and other commercial commodities which are loaded in their barges and towed by their tugboats, for which service petitioners charge freightage, but only serving a limited portion of the public. Respondent Philippine Shipowners Association complains that petitioners were engaged in the transportation of cargo for hire or compensation without authority or approval of the Commission, having adopted, filed and collected freight charges which said rates resulted in ruinous competition. PSC restrained petitioners “from further operating their watercraft to transport goods for hire or compensation between points in the Philippines until the rates they propose to charge are approved by this Commission.”

Issue:

Whether or not petitioners can be considered public service.

Ruling: YES.

It is not necessary, under this definition, that one holds himself out as serving or willing to serve the public in order to be considered public service.

Commonwealth Act No. 146 declares in unequivocal language that an enterprise of any of the kinds therein enumerated is a public service if conducted for hire or compensation even if the operator deals only with a portion of the public or limited clientele.

It has been seen that public utility, even where the term is not defined by statute, is not determined by the number of people actually served. Nor does the mere fact that service is rendered only under contract prevent a company from being a public utility. On the other hand, casual or incidental service devoid of public character and interest, it must be admitted, is not brought within the category of public utility. The demarcation line is not susceptible of exact description or definitions, each case being governed by its peculiar circumstances.

The transportation service which was the subject of complaint was not casual or incidental. It had been carried on regularly for years at almost uniform rates of charges. Although the number of the petitioners’ customers was limited, the value of goods transported was not inconsiderable. Petitioners did not have the same customers all the time embraced in the complaint, and there was no reason to believe that they would not accept, and there was nothing to prevent them from accepting, new customers that might be willing to avail of their service to the extent of their capacity.

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