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Execution bond in the Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers is anti-labor and unconstitutional

Execution bond in the Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers is anti-labor and unconstitutional
ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO | December 12, 2023

The bi-cameral committee deliberated last week the Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers that omitted the controversial escrow deposit but contained an equally anti-labor and unconstitutional provision on execution bond.

With the proposed provision, the seafarer may move for the execution of the monetary award pending appeal upon posting of a bond, the amount of which shall be determined by the appropriate body.

Under the labor code, the posting of bond is imposed only on the side of employer. Labor is required to pay only a minimal appeal fee.

The proponents of the execution bond erroneously presumed that the seafarer is in the same economic footing with the employer.

A seafarer seeks payment of monetary benefits because of the fact that he is in financial distress due to his medical condition.

Many are jobless, sick, disabled and infirm who incur huge debts to sustain their medication while others die before the decision by the Supreme Court is released.

Instead of saving his earnings for his medication, he will be forced to redirect them to the execution bond, jeopardizing further his economic well-being.

It will take 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 National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) / National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) up to the time the Supreme Court decides on it.

In the event that the seafarer cannot afford to file the execution bond, he will wait for longer years before he receive the award.

Like the escrow provision, the requirement for an execution bond violates the constitutional guarantee on equal protection which means that all persons or things similarly situated should be treated alike, both as to rights conferred and responsibilities imposed.

There is an invalid classification that runs counter to the Constitutional provision, which provides that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.” (Article II, Section 1).

It will partake of the nature of class legislation because it singles out seafarer claims from other labor claims, both local and overseas. There lies no substantial distinction between the claims of a seafarer and any other laborer.

It undermines the Constitutional mandate to protect the rights of OFWs and to promote their welfare when it deprives seafarers an avenue to receive the fruits of their legal battle.

Sweepingly linked with ambulance chasing, 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.

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

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

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.

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

In the end, the “balance of scale” will tilt more to capital as this will protect the business interest of the manning agencies and their principal rather than the seafarers themselves.

Employers are throwing off-balance the already imbalanced legal battle on seafarers’ claims as every labor dispute is a David and Goliath situation.

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.

The NLRC said that to require the seafarer or the seafarer’s successors-in-interest to move for the execution of the monetary award pending appeal upon posting of a bond to ensure full restitution, is burdensome for the seafarers who are unemployed by reason of their disability or their successors-in-interest who have been dependent on the former for sustenance.

“Guided by the constitutional mandate, we believe that the proposed provision will not favor, but would in fact be detrimental to, the seafarers, for they would be treated differently and unfavorably as compared to all other types of workers,” the NLRC said.

“While such is pending, it may suspend the effectivity of the law and render inutile all the laudable provisions beneficial to and immediately needed by our seafarers,” the NLRC said.