You are here

Supreme Court affirmations of favorable decisions outweigh reversals on seafarer’s cases

Supreme Court affirmations of favorable decisions outweigh reversals on seafarer’s cases
Atty. Dennis Gorecho June 1, 2023

The inclusion of an escrow provision in the Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers will go beyond its benevolent objective at the expense of curtailing labor rights.

Data from the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) reveal that in a span of 20 years, or from 2002 to 2022, there were 5,985 maritime cases that availed of the voluntary arbitration (VA) process, mostly filed before the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB).

From 2018 to 2022, 81.5 percent (3,582 cases) are for disability benefits, 7.1 percent (501 cases) for death benefits, and 1.1percent (313 cases) for other monetary benefits.

From 2016 to 2022, out of the 2,031 decided voluntary arbitration cases, 1,618 were appealed to the Court of Appeals; and 98 cases were later brought up from the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court. A total of 2,795 cases were settled.

At the Supreme Court, 79 cases were decided with 40 affirmations, 19 affirmations with modifications, 23 reversals and 2 remanded to the CA. The affirmation rate is 70 percent (53 cases) wherein 96 percent (51 cases) are in favor of labor while only 4 percent (2 cases) are in favor of management.

The reversal rate is 30 percent (23 cases) wherein 96 percent (22 cases) are in favor of management while 4 percent (1 case) for labor.

At the Court of Appeals, 602 cases were decided with 288 affirmations,146 affirmations with modifications,166 reversals, and 3 remanded to the VA.

The affirmation rate is 72 percent wherein 87 percent (378 cases) are in favor of labor while 13 percent (56 cases) are in favor of management.

The reversal rate is 28 percent wherein 10 percent (17 cases) are in favor of labor while 90 percent (146 cases) are in favor of management.

The proponents of the escrow provision argue that more than P2.5 billion worth of claims awarded by the NCMB alone from 2018 to 2022 had been reversed by either the CA or the Supreme Court.

The inclusion of the escrow provision aims to amend the Labor Code that will have significant impact on the “immediately final and executory” nature of decisions issued by the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and the NCMB.

Proponents 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.

Except for the uncontested amounts, the proceeds shall remain in escrow until such time the finality of the decision issued by the appropriate appellate court is obtained.

Proponents argue that seafarers seek “benefits even beyond the claims they are actually entitled” linked with alleged ambulance chasing to sanitize the problematic legal battle for compensation. They blamed the dwindling numbers of deployed seafarers on the increasing number of litigated cases.

Such argument is debunked by the affirmation rate of the VA decisions favorable to seafarers in the CA and SC.

The reversal rates in the Court of Appeals (28 percent) and Supreme Court (30 percent) cannot overshadow the fact that almost 70 percent of decisions of the appealed VA cases are affirmed in favor of labor.

The numbers contradict the sweeping allegations that most cases are “frivolous” and are associated with “ambulance chasers” or lawyers who go to lengths to push seafarers to file labor cases against their foreign employers.

Both Senators Raffy Tulfo and Risa Hontiveros are vocal in their opposition to the escrow provision.

Tulfo said he will not hesitate to expose the lobbyists once they try to block the measure.

Seafarers will wait for longer years before they receive the NLRC/NCMB award if the proposed escrow provision will be included.

Without any leverage in prosecuting his monetary claims, chances are, the seafarer bows to the demand of his employer to either drop his claim or accept a small settlement.

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 from the time of its filing or 7.2 years on average, according to the Commission on Human Rights.

The escrow provision will be violative of the constitutional right of equal protection since it will partake of the nature of class legislation because it singles out seafarer claims from other labor claims, both local and overseas.

A provision that will adversely affect a seafarer’s cause in whatever manner or nature has no place in a legal document that should be for their protection in the first place.

Otherwise, it becomes a tool of oppression and inequity to the prejudice of the seafarer.

The magna carta should expand, and not limit, the seafarers’ rights.