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Bill to shield seamen from lawsuits

Bill to shield seamen from lawsuits
Ma. Reina Leanne Tolentino June 10, 2024

A BILL has been filed in the House of Representatives that seeks to further protect seafarers against ambulance chasing.

House Bill 10495 was filed by Kabayan Party-list Rep. Ron Salo last May 29.

"Ambulance chasing involves unethical practices where individuals or organizations exploit seafarers to file unwarranted claims or lawsuits, often charging exorbitant fees for their services," the bill's explanatory note read.

The bill seeks to amend Republic Act 10706 or the Seafarers Protection Act by adding a section on the execution of judgment and monetary awards.

It directs the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE), the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), and the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB), in consultation with the Department of Migrant Workers' (DMW) Maritime Industry Tripartite Council, to "promulgate the necessary rules and procedures to ensure the fair, speedy, equitable and just disposition and execution of decisions granting monetary awards for the salaries and wages of seafarers, for their death and disability claims, and for all their other statutory benefits."

The bill also mandates the DoLE and its attached agencies NLRC and NCMB to "promulgate rules and regulations to prevent ambulance chasing to ensure the timely and full restitution of the monetary award, in case the decision is reversed on appeal or judicial review."

The decision "granting a monetary award in a voluntary or mandatory arbitration, or by the NLRC," must specify the payment of salaries or wages, any statutory monetary and welfare benefit, and any undisputed sum "admitted by a party to be legally due to the other party"; any undisputed sum "determined to be legally due the seafarer" and damages.

If the seafarer wins on appeal or judicial review, the losing party must "immediately reimburse" the sum that the seafarer paid for the bond's cost.

The bill tasks the DMW, in coordination with the DoLE, NLRC and Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), "in consultation with relevant stakeholders, including unions, shipowners and their representatives, and manning agencies," to promulgate the measure's implementing rules and regulations within 60 days from its enactment.

"When we address the concerns that affect the attractiveness of Filipino seafarers to foreign shipowners, more shipowners will be encouraged to engage more Filipino seafarers. Providing measures to disincentivize ambulance chasing will not only protect our seafarers from the exploitative acts of certain individuals but also ensure their attractability in the job market," Salo said in a statement.

The bill was a response to calls from shipowners and seafarers for a long-term resolution on ambulance chasing, he said.

"With the Philippines being one of the world's leading suppliers of seafarers, we must extend the utmost protection we can give to ensure that our seafarers receive the rights and benefits they deserve. This will benefit the whole maritime sector, including manning agencies and shipowners," he said.