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‘For being human, seafarers should not be penalized’

‘For being human, seafarers should not be penalized’
Atty. Dennis Gorecho March 31, 2023

“Seafarers’ claims for disability benefits should not be considered unreasonable and impelled by nothing but greed but rather, justified by their health considerations and a natural desire of every person to preserve his life for as long as possible. For being human, seafarers should not be penalized.”

Thus the Supreme Court cited in the case of United Philippine Lines Inc. v. Beseril (GR 165934, April 12, 2006) in relation to a case filed by a seafarer who suffered a heart illness while on board the vessel.

The same rationale should be considered by our lawmakers in the pending Magna Carta for Seafarers, which must give more protection to seafarers, rather than limiting their rights.

In a forum organized by the Concerned Seafarers of the Philippines, Gabriela Women’s Partylist representative Arlene Brosas underscored the danger of the inclusion of the escrow provision on the proposed Magna Carta, which is unconstitutional and anti-labor.

With 304 affirmative votes, the House approved the Magna Carta bill on March 6, 2022 where only four House members voted no, including Brosas, who authored one of the unconsolidated initial versions of the bill.

The employers and manning agencies proposed the provision, which in essence aimed to amend the Labor Code that will have significant impact on the “immediately final and executory” nature of decisions issued by National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB).

They stressed that such move is necessary to ensure the restitution of monetary awards in case the appropriate appellate court annuls or partially or totally reverses the monetary judgment award.

The proceeds shall remain in escrow until such time the finality of the decision issued by the appropriate appellate court is obtained.

The amount in escrow shall not include claims for salaries, statutory monetary benefits, or those originally determined by the employer or manning agency to be legally due to the seafarer.

They proposed the provision while misleadingly blaming the dwindling numbers of deployed seafarers on the increasing number of litigated cases involving monetary claims for disability and death benefits.

Described as “ambulance chasers,” they have deliberately and sweepingly depicted seafarers’ lawyers as “unscrupulous” in an attempt to deflect the real issues why cases are being filed. They criticized most lawyers who go to lengths to push seafarers to file labor cases against their foreign employers.

They consistently used the phrase “balancing the interest of the seafarer and the company” on the premise that their proposals will ensure employment of Filipinos on board foreign ocean-going vessels.

“Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo? This provision is cruel because (seafarers) don’t have the money to handle appeals from capitalists in the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court. We should not burden maritime workers with wrong decisions by the NLRC,” Brosas said.

Brosas said she feared that seafarers, who need the money for their disability, would be held hostage by the provision, because the seafarer couldn’t get the award until legal proceedings are completed.

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.

In Oriental Shipmgt. Co. Inc. v. Bastol, (GR 168269 January 29, 2010), the Supreme Court said that “the sad reality is that the seafarer succumbed to his illness, died and cannot now enjoy the fruits of his long protracted struggle for what is right and what has accrued to him.”

A 2021 study by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), in collaboration with Lawyers Beyond Borders, Philippines Inc. noted that in the period 2015-2019, it took 7.2 years on the average for an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) money claims case to go through the entire judicial process from the date of filing of the complaint in the NLRC/ NCMB up to the date of decision by the Supreme Court.

The process in the NLRC/NCMB is tedious and long winding enough. First there is the SENA or Single-Entry Approach where the seafarer and the company will negotiate, then the filing of the case with a Labor Arbiter/Panel of Voluntary Arbitrators. Then if the seafarer wins, the company can still appeal to the NLRC Commission consisting of three Commissioners. If the Commission affirms the Labor Arbiter’s decision, the company can still file a Motion for Reconsideration. In the NCMB, the company can file a Motion for Reconsideration on the decision of the Panel of Arbitrators.

Once a judgment has become final, the prevailing party can have the judgment executed as a matter of right. The seafarer can at last get his winning award even if the company files a petition for certiorari at the Court of Appeals, and later a Petition for Review with the Supreme Court, which will take additional years to resolve.

Unlike land based OFWs and local workers, Brosas noted that execution of decisions involving seafarer’s claims will soon change once an escrow provision is included in the pending Magna Carta.