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Govt vows eradication of ambulance chasers

Govt vows eradication of ambulance chasers
Yashika F. Torib April 19, 2023

THE Marcos administration has vowed to eradicate ambulance chasers who prey on seafarers and their manning agents.

In a recent statement released by the Presidential Communications Office in response to an open letter by a seafaring union, Malacañang assured the public that "the entire government will be working to address and stop these horrific practices that erode the credibility and competence of the seafaring industry in the country."

Republic Act 10076 or the "Act Protecting Seafarers from Ambulance Chasing" describes ambulance chasing as the act of soliciting, personally or through an agent, from seafarers, or their heirs, the pursuit of any claim against their employers for recovery of the monetary claim of benefit. In the Philippine maritime industry, ambulance chasers prowl medical clinics, airports, and streets to find potential seafarer claimants.

Industry stakeholders disclosed that foreign ship owners and ship managers have been replacing Filipino seafarers with other nationalities in frustration with the ambulance chasing problem in the country that is costing them millions of dollars in awards.

Malacañang stated that it is aware that seafarers are "being preyed on and taken advantage of" by ambulance chasers.

"The government is doing all it can to protect and look after the welfare of our seafarers and their families who ultimately bear the burden of these unscrupulous groups and individuals," it said.

The recent move by the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs to approve the Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers is expected to address this concern. The said legislation aims to provide enhanced protection for Filipino seafarers by building on the regulations established in the Maritime Labor Convention 2005, which the Philippines ratified.

Under the proposed law, a period of validation and payment of seafarers' claims is specified to curb the practice of ambulance chasing.

"By holding disputed compensation in a deposit until appeals are resolved, the use of escrow ensures that shipowners immediately pay but prevents ambulance chasers from taking the majority of the award," Rep. Sandro Gonzales of the Marino party-list said in a statement.

This, in effect, protects seafarers from ambulance chasers who lure them into filing court claims against their employers, and subsequently taking more than half of the award granted by the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).

This also protects employers and shipowners who are forced to settle knowing that the judgment award will not be returned even if the NLRC and National Conciliation and Mediation Board reverse their decisions.

"Protection to Filipino seafarers from unconscionable lawyers is critical as [they] take advantage of our seafarers' unfamiliarity of existing laws relating to work-related injuries, and lack of resources to extract unwarranted fees. It is for this reason that we supplied a provision for escrow as a manner of execution under Sec. 51 of House Bill No. 7325 as this is calculated to deter or at least mitigate ambulance chasing," Gonzales said.

Marino party-list disclosed a certain case where a second cook, who refused to be named, was awarded by the NLRC full disability in 2017 over an injury in his right hand. From a compensation amounting to P4.5 million, he confessed that he only received P1.2 million after the lawyer fees and other charges.

The said seafarer claimed that he was assured of free legal services before filing the case. However, on top of the P3.3 million taken by his lawyer, another P200,000 was demanded by an agent as "commission."

He was later goaded by the said ambulance chasers to be their agent, saying that others would believe him as he, himself, is a seafarer.

"It is imperative that we defend their livelihood, as they play a vital part in our national economy," Gonzales concluded.