Dennis Gorecho .
“AANHIN pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo.”
The manning agencies resurrected in the proposed Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers a bill earlier filed by Angkla Partylist wherein the proceeds of execution shall be deposited in an escrow account with an escrow agent designated by the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB).
Earlier filed as House Bill No. 5430 on February 2015 during the 16th Congress, the proposed provision in essence aimed to amend the labor code that will have significant impact on labor claims governing the immediately “final and executory” nature of decisions issued by NLRC/NCMB.
The seafarer will wait for longer years before they receive the NLRC/NCMB award, mostly for cases involving monetary claims for disability and death benefits, illegal dismissal as well as unpaid or underpayment of salaries and wages.
Because of the POEA contract’s work-related clause applied to claiming benefits for deaths, illnesses and injuries, the claims process has become more litigious, allowing employers to question how the seafarers’ fate and misfortunes are work-related.
As the claims process has become more litigious, it also implies that seafarers and their families will have to spend a lot of money pursuing their claims and will have to wait for a long period of time given the speed of case decisions in the country.
When the seafarers’ claims get approved at the arbiter level of the NLRC, employers are more inclined to bring the cases up to the Commission level, and even all the way to the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court rather than to submit to the decision given at the arbiter level.
The manning agencies echoed Angkla’s rationale for the earlier Bill allegedly to ensure the restitution of monetary awards in case the appropriate appellate court annuls or partially or totally reverses the monetary judgment award.
The manning agencies pointed out that the provision is proper as the problem of the immediately “final and executory” nature of decisions gains greater relevance considering the following factors: (a) the complainant will insist on the execution of the NLRC/NCMB decision despite the appeal; (b) even if the appellate courts overturn or modify the NLRC/NCMB decision, there is little hope of recovering anything through restitution; (c) more legal costs and expenses will be incurred in pursuing the case through the appellate courts and in applying for restitution of the judgment award.
However, the manning agencies disregarded the fact that in cases of seafarers with medical conditions, some incur huge debts to sustain their medication while others die before the decision by the Supreme Court is released forcing the seafarers into accepting an ex-gratia, miniscule amount. Companies have the legal remedies to recover the amount, but one cannot reclaim the life of the deceased claimant.
If passed into law with said provision, the Magna Carta will partake of the nature of class legislation because it singles out seafarer claims from other labor claims, both local and overseas.
The requirement that classification must be based on substantial distinctions has not been complied with. There lies no substantial distinction between the claims a seafarer and any other laborers.
The provision makes a rash generalization that cases filed by seafarers’ lawyers are merely after financial gain, and not to protect the seafarer’s rights, all based on an unsubstantiated and likewise unfair generalization to the effect that they are ambulance chasers.
The proposed provision is unduly oppressive, unreasonable, and is repugnant to the Constitution. It undermines the mandate of the Constitution to protect the rights of overseas workers and to promote their welfare when it deprive such seafarers an avenue to receive the fruits of his legal battle.
The proposed provision is the reverse of the constitutional mandate and the declared policies of RA No. 8042, as amended by R.A. 100022 as it unreasonably downplays the seafarers’ rights guaranteed by the constitution instead of protecting the rights and promoting their welfare.
In what appears to be a virtuous objective of protecting Filipino seafarers, the inclusion of said escrow provision will go beyond such benevolent objective at the expense of curtailing their rights.
(Dennis Gorecho is a lawyer who heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)