The Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers might turn out to be prejudicial to and discriminatory against disabled and sick seafarers instead of protecting them due to the execution bond.
The Senate and the House of Representatives recently approved and ratified the bicameral conference committee version of the Magna Carta.
Senator Raffy Tulfo, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Migrant Workers, highlighted a “win-win” solution in the bill for shipping companies and seafarers seeking disability claims through the execution bond.
Tulfo said that in the bicam version, the said bond would be posted only for the disputed portion of the award. And if the seafarer ultimately prevails in the case, he will be reimbursed with the cost of putting up the bond.
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.
Headed by Tulfo, the Senate panel also includes Senate Majority Floor Leader Joel Villanueva, Chiz Escudero, Risa Hontiveros, and Imee Marcos.
On the other hand, the House panel was led by the House Chairperson on Migrant Workers Kabayan Partylist Rep. Ron Salo. He was joined by OFW Partylist Rep. Marissa Magsino, MARINO Partylist Rep. Sandro Gonzalez, Zamboanga 1st District Rep. Khymer Adan Olaso, and Pangasinan 6th District Rep. Marlyn Primicias-Agabas.
The debate on disability claims centered on the proposed provision that aimed to amend the Labor Code will have adverse significant impact on the “immediately final and executory” nature of decisions issued by the 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 seafarer may move for the execution of the monetary award pending appeal upon posting of a bond.
The Senate approved the measure on second and third reading on September 27, 2023 without the escrow/execution bond provision. The bill was approved with 14 votes, no negative vote, and no abstention.
The House of Representatives approved on March 6, 2023 its version of the Magna Carta (House Bill 7325) that contains the escrow/ execution bond provision.
The bicameral conference committee met to reconcile the provisions of the two versions and to come up with the common bill and presented to both houses for final reading and vote. The escrow portion was omitted but the execution bond was retained.
Following the ratification, the proposed bill will be transmitted to the Office of the President for his approval and signature.
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 as 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.
Like the escrow, 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.
It will partake of the nature of class legislation because it singles out seafarer claims from other labor claims, both local and overseas. It is discriminatory against seafarers, as 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.
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.
Seafarers will be “penalized” that will downplay their rights guaranteed by the constitution instead of protecting their rights and promoting their welfare.
Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.