You are here

Group questions escrow provision in proposed Magna Carta for seafarers

Group questions escrow provision in proposed Magna Carta for seafarers
Cristina Eloisa Baclig -June 05, 2023

MANILA, Philippines—A group of seafarers questioned the escrow provision in the proposed Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers, which has been previously described as a “nefariously anti-labor insertion” in a law that is supposed to protect the rights of seafarers.

In a statement on Monday (June 5), Amor Seaman, a group of Filipino seafarers, expressed objections to the escrow provision in the proposed measure.

Lawyer Dennis Gorecho, Amor spokesman, said the provision “will put the benefits won by seafarers to an escrow account and can only be released upon the final decision of the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court, which takes seven years or more.”

In the proposed Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers, Section 51—“Escrow as a Manner of Execution”—states that:

“Any monetary award by the arbitrator to the seafarer, or the seafarer’s successors-in-interest, made whether in a voluntary or mandatory arbitration, or by the National Labor Relations Commission, shall be placed in escrow if the employer or manning agency has raised or intends to raise the decision for judicial review in accordance with the Rules of Court.

The amount shall remain in escrow until the issuance of an entry of judgment by the appropriate reviewing court or when the employer or manning agency fails to perfect the appeal or petition for review. The fees in obtaining or maintaining the escrow account shall be paid by the employer or the manning agency.”

This means that a third party will hold any contested funds for compensation involving work-related injuries, or the amount will not be released to the seafarer or their heirs until all litigation processes and corresponding appeals to higher courts have been completed.

Amor Seaman argued that it is “undeniably unfair” to hold the death or disability benefits of Filipino seafarers for one or two years until after the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court finally decide that the money should be released.

It added that the provision does not offer protection to seafarers.

“The benefits won is for their welfare. It is life or death for them finance-wise. Denying it is clearly not in protection of their welfare,” Gorecho said.

“[T]he escrow provision should not be used to address ambulance chasers as it ultimately penalizes seafarers by taking hostage their benefits. It punishes not the ambulance chasers but our modern heroes,” he added.

Proponents of the escrow provision in the proposed measure clarified that it would protect seafarers from the unlawful practices of ambulance chasing, which, according to Republic Act (RA) No. 10706 or the Seafarers Protection Act, occurs when lawyers or their subordinates actively go after victims of accidents or individuals involved in potentially big legal issues with the intent to file cases on their behalf.

Ambulance chasers usually deduct huge fees from the monetary claim or benefit granted to or awarded to seafarers or their heirs.

Amor suggested that instead of delaying the compensation for seafarers who suffer from maritime work-related injuries, local manning agencies and foreign shipowners should push the government to “ strictly implement and apply the existing law on ambulance chasing (RA 10706).”

“All it needs is an implementing rule from the Department of Labor and Employment,” the group added.

Under RA 10706, anyone who is proven to have engaged in ambulance chasing shall be punished:

by a fine of not less than P50,000 but not more than P100,000; or
by imprisonment of 1 year but not more than 2 years; or
both fine and imprisonment.

Several groups and organizations have previously expressed concerns and dismay on the inserted escrow provision, explaining that it contradicts the law’s objective to protect and promote the rights of Filipino seafarers.

In a previous statement, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said the provision would add more years to the already tedious and long-winding process of filing for compensation for a work-related injury and the actual awarding of the contested funds to the affected seafarers and their families.

“Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo? (What will we do with the grass if the horse is dead?) As the saying goes,” NUPL added.