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Escrow debate by the numbers: Deployed seafarers, SC-decided cases in favor of labor, and remittances

Escrow debate by the numbers: Deployed seafarers, SC-decided cases in favor of labor, and remittances
Atty. Dennis Gorecho August 24, 2023

The debate on the proposed escrow in the pending Magna Carta for Seafarers revolves around the issue of alleged dwindling numbers of deployed seafarers that are usually misleadingly blamed by employers and manning agencies on the increasing number of litigated cases sweepingly associated with ambulance chasing.

However, data from the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) show otherwise.

From 1984 to 1990, the annual deployment was recorded at 50,604 in 1984; 52,290 in 1985; 54,697 in 1986; 67,042 in 1987; 85,913 in 1988; 103,280 in 1989; and 111,212 in 1990.

From 1991 to 2000, there were 125,759 seafarers deployed in 1991; 136,806 in 1992; 145,758 in 1993; 154,376 in 1994; 165,401 in 1995; 175,469 in 1996; 188,469 in 1997; 193,300 in 1998; 196,689 in1999; and 198,324 in 2000.

From 2001 to 2010, the DMW noted the deployed seafarers to have reached 204,951 in 2001; 209,593 in 2002; 216,031 in 2003; 229,002 in 2004; 247,983 in 2005; 274,497 in 2006; 266,553 in 2007; 261,614 in 2008; 330,424 in 2009; and 347,150 in 2010.

From 2011 to 2019, the deployed seafarers were recorded at 369,104 in 2011; 366,865 in 2012; 367,166 in 2013; 401,826 in 2014; 406,531 in 2015; 442,820 in 2016; 449,463 in 2017; 482,393 in 2018; and 507,730 in 2019.

Due to the Covid pandemic, recent deployments were recorded at 217,223 in 2020; 345,517 in 2021; and 385,239 in 2022.


Since 1984, the yearly deployment was in an upward trend, except for 2007 (-7,944), 2008 (-4,939), 2012 (-2,239) and 2020 (-290,507) where there were decreases from the previous year.

The highest number of deployed seafarers was documented in 2019 at 507,730.

Before the pandemic lockdown in 2020, the number of recorded deployed seafarers was increasing. However, it dropped drastically to 217, 223 in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns.

The number started to increase again after the easing of the lockdown.

The highest increase was in 2021 (128,294) followed by 2009 (68,810), 2022 (39,722), 2016 (36,289), and 2014 (34,660).

The world’s supply of seafarers, including those from the Philippines, was greatly affected by the pandemic that caused extended lockdowns and border closures, and the resulting crew change crisis.

The Philippines is still considered as one of the major suppliers of maritime labor globally. It is estimated that there is one Filipino seafarer for every four to five crewmembers on board a vessel at any time.

According to the BIMCO/ICS Seafarer Workforce Report 2021, the top five largest supplier for both officers and ratings are the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Indonesia, China, and India. Together, these countries supplied 44 percent of the global seafarer workforce.

The sea-based remittances reached $6,870,827,000 in 2017; $6,139,512,000 in 2018; $6,539,246,000 in 2019; $6,353,522,000 in 2020; $6,545,002,000 in 2021; and $6,715,880,000 in 2022.

With the increasing number of deployed seafarers, the risk of more seafarers suffering from illness, accident or death also increases.

However, through restrictive provisions of the POEA contract, claims for disability and death compensation became a legal battleground, which is partly attributable to the fact that employers do not hesitate to harness their immense resources to limit their liability.

The escrow proponents in the Magna Carta for Seafarers 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.

Data from the DMW noted that out of the 2,031 decided voluntary arbitration cases from 2016 to 2022, a total of 1,618 were appealed to the Court of Appeals (CA); and 98 cases were later brought up from the CA 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.

The NLRC reported that the affirmation rate of decisions appealed to the Court of Appeals in 2022 is 92 percent.

The reversal rates in the Supreme Court (30 percent) cannot overshadow the fact that almost 70 percent of decisions of the appealed VA cases were 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. There is not even substantial evidence to correlate the losing cases as cases initiated by ambulance chasers.

Will the winning 70 percent seafarers’ cases be sacrificed due to the 30 percent reversals?

“Data from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) indicated that from 2015 to 2019, it took 7.2 years on average for an OFW money claims case to go through the entire judicial process from the date of filing of the complaint in the NLRC up to the time the Supreme Court decides on it.”

Proponents of the escrow provision argue that such 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.

“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.” (UPL v. Beseril, GR 165934, April 12, 2006).

Seafarers will be “penalized” by the escrow provision that will downplay their rights guaranteed by the constitution instead of protecting their rights and promoting their welfare.