Seafarers on board ships are human souls within human bodies.
Thus declared my UP Law professor and Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen in the case of Castillon vs Magsaysay Mitsui OSK (GR 234711. March 2, 2020) involving a seafarer who died due to colon cancer as he stressed that social justice is very much a part of every decision in labor cases.
“Our seafarers gamble their lives to work for a shipping company that will direct their ships to where they can efficiently gain profits for their owners and shareholders. They are aware that on board are human souls within human bodies who have to live for weeks or months under the conditions they provide. While at sea, the seafarers do not have any option except to live in their quarters, eat the diet provided to them, and exist within the hours that are fully controlled by the officers of the vessel under the command of the owners,” Leonen said.
Leonen added that the cap on the amount that can be recovered by a seafarer for a work-related illness caused or aggravated by the working conditions of the employers is already a major and gargantuan compromise.
“The true cost of hiring a human being will not be internalized. On many occasions, this Court stood as a mute witness to the paltry amounts received—even for permanent and total disabilities—compared with the illness Filipino seafarers have to suffer or the deaths that their families have to endure. Fairness and social justice demand that we give them all that are due—as a Filipino seafarer who sacrificed and as a human being,” Leonen stressed.
In Toquero v. Crossworld Marine Services (June 26, 2019, GR 213482), Leonen said that the law imposes liabilities on employers so that they are burdened with the costs of harm should they fail to take precautions.
Between the ship owner/manager and the worker, the former is in a better position to ensure the discipline of its workers.
In economics, this is called internalization, which attributes the consequences and costs of an activity to the party who causes them. The law intervenes to achieve allocative efficiency between the employer and the seafarer. Allocative efficiency refers to the satisfaction of consumers in a market, which produces the goods that consumers are willing to pay. The occupational hazards are reflected and accounted for in the seafarer’s contract and the POEA regulations.
In Rodelas v. MST Marine Services (GR 244423. November 4, 2020), Leonen said that seafarers do not lose their right to consent to the prescribed medical procedure of the company-designated physician.
The Court recognize the right of a person to decide on what can and cannot be done to his or her body, and to arrive at an informed consent on a potentially dangerous medical procedure.
While it is the employer’s responsibility to shoulder medical treatments of its employees injured in relation to their work, they cannot compel their employees to undergo invasive medical treatments.
In Toliongco v. Anglo Eastern Crew Mgt. (GR 231748 July 8, 2020), Leonen underscored that sexual harassment is not an issue of gender but an issue of power.
Injuries do not refer to only the physical kind but can come in many forms—physical, emotional, or psychological.
“It is high-time that we recognize sexual harassment on board vessels as a risk faced by our seafarers. We also cannot disregard the possibility that the seafarer felt shame over what had happened. Victims of sexual abuse usually take time before reporting to the proper authorities. Perhaps, more so if they are male as society has made it hard for male victims of sexual harassment to come out and report.”
In Inter-Orient Maritime Ent. Inc. v. Creer (GR 181921, September 17, 2014), Leonen downplayed the argument that the relaxation of rules will reduce the competitiveness of Filipino seafarers.
“I do not believe so. The competitiveness of our seafarers is attributed to their skills, creativity, and resiliency. Competitiveness has very little to do with the mandatory three-day post-employment medical examination period.”
In Monana v. MEC Global Ship Mgt. (GR 196122 November 12, 2014), Leonen noted that seafarers who suffer from occupational hazards are not necessarily constrained to contractual breach as cause of action in claiming compensation.
“Our laws allow seafarers, in a proper case, to seek damages based on tortious violations by their employers by invoking Civil Code provisions, and even special laws such as environmental regulations requiring employers to ensure the reduction of risks to occupational hazards.”
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.
In 2022, Filipino seafarers deployed reached 489,852 with the corresponding dollar remittances amounting to $6,715,880,000.
The 28th National Seafarers Day is set on September 24, 2023 with the theme “Marinong Filipino: Patuloy sa Pangangalaga ng Karagatan.”
Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail email@example.com, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.)