Escrow provision in the pending Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers is unconstitutional and anti-labor

Column box-Dennis Gorecho

IN the guise of protecting mariners, the inclusion of an escrow provision in the proposed Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers is unconstitutional and anti-labor.

The inclusion of said escrow provision will go beyond the benevolent objective of the Magna Carta at the expense of curtailing seafarers’ rights.

The employers and manning agencies again proposed the provision, which in essence 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). 

They 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. The proceeds shall remain in escrow until such time the finality of the decision issued by the appropriate appellate court is obtained.

The provision is a mere dilatory tactic in the execution of the seafarers’ monetary awards and violates the constitutional guarantee on equal protection.

 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).

The constitutional right of equal protection shall mean that all persons or things similarly situated should be treated alike, both as to rights conferred and responsibilities imposed.

Class legislation denies rights to one which are accorded to others, or inflicts upon one individual a more severe penalty than is imposed upon another in like case offending. (Executive Secretary v. Court of Appeals, GR 131719, May 25, 2004)

The Supreme Court elucidated upon the concept of equal protection of the laws in the case of Nuñez v. Sandiganbayan, (197 Phil. 407): “xxx that the laws operate equally and uniformly on all persons under similar circumstances or that all persons must be treated in the same manner, the conditions not being different, both in the privileges conferred and the liabilities imposed. Favoritism and undue preference cannot be allowed. For the principle is that equal protection and security shall be given to every person under circumstances which, if not identical, are analogous. If law be looked upon in terms of burden or charges, those that fall within a class should be treated in the same fashion, whatever restrictions cast on some in the group equally binding on the rest.”

Legislative bodies are allowed to classify the subjects of legislation. If the classification is reasonable, the law may operate only on some and not all of the people without violating the equal protection clause. The classification must, as an indispensable requisite, not be arbitrary.

To be valid, it must conform to the following: (1) based on substantial distinctions; (2) germane to the purposes of the law; (3) not be limited to existing conditions only and (4) apply equally to all members of the class.(People v. Cayat, GR L-45987, May 5, 1939).

If passed into law with said provision, the Magna Carta 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 a seafarer and any other laborers.

The provision makes a rash generalization that cases filed by lawyers in the seafaring practice are merely after financial gain, and not to protect the seafarer’s rights, all based on an unsubstantiated and likewise unfair generalization that all such lawyers are ambulance chasers.

In the same vein, the provision should highlight the fact that the act of ambulance chasing transcends other fields of practice, and is not solely found in the seafaring practice.

The provision is unduly oppressive, unreasonable, and is repugnant to the Constitution.

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.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas sought the deletion of escrow provision, claiming that it places primacy on the discretion of employers in determining the contested and uncontested amount.

“This is a big red flag. This overturns the hard-fought battle of seafarers for their claims. The ruling of the NLRC commissioners should suffice for the awarding of benefits and claims. Why should we let seafarers suffer for any potential error in judgment by the commissioners?” Brosas explained.

The escrow provision will downplay the seafarers’ rights guaranteed by the constitution instead of protecting their rights and promoting their welfare.

Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.


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