You are here

Marcos assures Filipino seafarers of Magna Carta passage

Marcos assures Filipino seafarers of Magna Carta passage
CIH September 27, 2023

IN time for the celebration of National Seafarers' Day 2023, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has certified as urgent the passage of the proposed Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers, giving assurance that the measure will be enacted into law during the first session of the 19th Congress.

Senate Bill (SB) 2221, or "An Act Providing for the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers," which is considered the enabling act of the Maritime Labor Convention 2006 or the Seafarers' Bill of Rights, seeks to guarantee the fundamental rights, benefits, and comprehensive protection for Filipino seafarers worldwide.

The first version of the bill was filed 15 years ago. Although the House of Representatives was able to pass on third reading its version of the measure several times, the bill languished at the Senate.

The President's certification of urgency allows the Senate to bypass the three-day rule and rush the approval of the bill, which is now undergoing a period of amendments.

In his letter to Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, Marcos underscored the need for the immediate enactment of the bill to address the recurring deficiencies in domestic laws on the training and accreditation of seafarers, which endanger their employment in the global maritime arena.

SB 2221 is also expected to guarantee the international community that the Philippines will comply with relevant conventions and that its training, facilities, and equipment are at par with international standards.

One potential delay in the passage of the bill is the wide gap between the House and Senate versions. One provision that turned out to be quite controversial is the proposed escrow provision, which is included in the House version but excluded in the Senate version. The escrow provision can be used to award monetary claims to seafarers.

The senators are adamantly against inserting the provision in their version of the magna carta, insisting that having an escrow account puts seafarers in a disadvantageous position but favorable to manning agencies.

The escrow is a financial agreement whereby a portion of the money claim awarded to seafarers is held by a third party on behalf of the seafarers and the employers until the final decision on claims is made by higher courts.

It should be made clear, however, that only the disputed amount would be held in escrow. The monetary benefits guaranteed under the seafarer's employment contract would be readily awarded to seafarers.

Meanwhile, opposition groups said that the escrow would protect both seafarers and employers from lawyers who intend to extract unwarranted fees from the seafarers, whom they say get to bear the brunt of the hefty payment to be returned to the employers when the case is elevated to the higher court.

This happens when the unscrupulous lawyers termed "ambulance chasers" take more than half of the money awarded and disappear when the case is refiled and won in a higher court. These lawyers usually advance the money to the seafarers while assuring them of a higher claim.

The House version states, "Any monetary award by the arbitrator to the seafarer... shall be placed in escrow if the employer or manning agency has raised or intends to raise the decision for judicial review under the Rules of the Court."

It also states that "unpaid salaries, statutory benefits, or those legally determined by the shipowner or manning agency as legally owed to the seafarer will be paid out immediately to the seafarer even if the shipowner or manning agency appeals the decision."

Some stakeholders said, "Some shipowners have already expressed their intention to shift to other nations like India and Africa if ambulance chasing will not stop or if the escrow provision is prevented from being included in the magna carta."