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Senate approves Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers without escrow provision

Senate approves Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers without escrow provision
Atty. Dennis Gorecho October 2, 2023

Three days after the celebration of the 28th National Seafarers’ Day (NSD), the Senate approved on second and third readings on Wednesday, September 27, 2023, Senate Bill No. (SBN) 2221, also known as the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers.

Certified as urgent, the bill seeks to secure seafarers’ rights to decent, just, and humane conditions of employment aboard sea-going vessels and sets guidelines for their training and education, overseas employment, and retirement.

The bill was approved with 14 votes, no negative vote, and no abstention.

The proposed Magna Carta seeks to implement the standards set by Maritime Labor Convention of 2006 (MLC2006) to ensure protection of the rights and welfare of Filipino seafarers by recognizing their rights, instituting mechanisms for the enforcement and protection thereof, providing for compulsory benefits.

The MLC2006 establishes minimum working and living standards for all seafarers working on ships flying the flags of ratifying countries. The Philippines deposited its instrument of ratification on August 20, 2012.

The first Magna Carta bill was filed during the 13th Congress by Senator Edgardo Angara.

In the 19th Congress, 14 senators filed their versions of the Magna Carta, namely, Senators Raffy Tulfo, Risa Hontiveros, Migz Zubiri, Joel Villanueva, Loren Legarda, Jinggoy Estrada, Robinhood Padilla, Cynthia Villar, Sonny Angara, Grace Poe, Win Gatchalian, Bong Revilla, Bong Go, Mark Villar and Bato dela Rosa.

Tulfo delivered his sponsorship speech on May 22, 2023.

From August 23 to September 11, 2023, interpellations were conducted by Villanueva, Dela Rosa, Hontiveros, and Pimentel. Period of amendment was from September 25 to 27, 2023.

The bill was approved two days after President Bongbong Marcos certified it as urgent.

The final Senate version of the Magna Carta did not include the controversial escrow provision.

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

The House of Representatives approved on March 6, 2023 its version of the Magna Carta (House Bill 7325) that contains the escrow provision. 304 lawmakers voted in favor (including Marino Partylist) while four voted against it and none abstained. The Makabayan block led by Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas said that it is a watered-down Magna Carta due to the bill’s escrow provision.

“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,” says Hontiveros during the interpellation.

She stressed that the escrow provision violates the constitutional guarantee on 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.

Hontiveros also made the last minute proposal on the inclusion of the word “to be engaged” in the definition of seafarer.

The earlier version states that “seafarer refers to any Filipino including cadets, who is engaged, employed, or working in any capacity onboard a ship covered by this Act. A seafarer is deemed ‘engaged’ as such if the seafarer has signed a valid employment contract but has yet to leave the point of hire. In the case of a cadet one is deemed engaged upon signing of a valid shipboard training agreement.”

Hontiveros pointed out that “to be engaged” appears in the definition of an Overseas Filipino Worker in RA 11641 (Department of Migrant Workers Act) and the RA 8042 (Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act).

She stressed that the Magna Carta will be less effective since it must not be limited to existing conditions only and it must apply equally to all members of the class. The class refers to all seafarers, whether employed or not.

There were oppositions to its inclusion as they argue that the definition and coverage should follow what is stated in the MLC2006.

The paragraph was later amended to reflect her proposal.

The next stage is the action of the bicameral conference committee that is tasked mainly to settle, reconcile or thresh out differences or disagreements on any provision of the bill that each chamber has approved.

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

Filipino seafarers deployed in 2022 reached 489,852 with the corresponding dollar remittances amounting to $6,715,880,000.

The sea-based sector’s remittances comprise at least 22 percent of the total OFW dollar remittances.

Last September 24, 2023 is the 28th NSD by virtue of Proclamation Nos. 828 and 1094 by President Fidel Ramos, which is celebrated since 1996 every last Sunday of September to give due recognition to the vital role of Filipino seafarers towards the development of the Philippines as a maritime country.