Damages for unjustified withholding of the seafarers’ travel documents
Manning companies are liable for damages due to unjustified withholding of seafarers’ travel documents preventing them from seeking lucrative employment elsewhere.
The Supreme Court considered as an act tantamount to bad faith the company’s arbitrary imposition of a condition that the travel documents would only be released upon signing of a quitclaim in the case of C.F. SHARP & CO. INC. vs Agustin and Minimo (G.R No.179469, February 15, 2012).
The seafarers applied with the company as sandblasters and painters in Libya.
After passing the interview, they were required to submit their passports, seaman’s book, National Bureau of Investigation clearance, employment certificates, certificates of seminars attended, and results of medical examination.
Upon submission of the requirements, a Contract of Employment was executed between the seafarers and C.F. Sharp.
Thereafter, seafarers were required to attend various seminars, open a bank account with the corresponding allotment slips, and attend a pre-departure orientation.
They were then advised to prepare for immediate deployment and to report to the company to ascertain the schedule of their deployment.
However, the seafarers were not deployed after a month prompting them to request for the release of the documents they had submitted to the company which allegedly refused to surrender the documents.
The seafarers filed a complaint for breach of contract and damages against the company where they claimed that the company falsely assured them of deployment.
They added that its refusal to release the travel documents on the ground that they were already bound by reason of the Contract of Employment denied them of employment opportunities abroad and a guaranteed income.
The company was found guilty of violation of Article 34(k) of the Labor Code, which makes it unlawful for any entity “to withhold or deny travel documents from applicant workers before departure for monetary or financial considerations other than those authorized under this Code and its implementing rules and regulations.”
The Supreme Court awarded moral damages based on Article 2219 of the Civil Code in relation to Article 21 which state that “any person who wilfully causes loss or injury to another in a manner that is contrary to morals, good customs or public policy shall compensate the latter for the damage.”
The Supreme Court stressed that the company committed an actionable wrong when it unreasonably withheld the documents, thus preventing the seafarers from seeking lucrative employment elsewhere.
The condition that the documents would only be released upon signing of a quitclaim is tantamount to bad faith because it effectively deprived the seafarers of resort to legal remedies.
The Supreme Court likewise affirmed the award of exemplary damages for “a wrongful act that is accompanied by bad faith or when the defendant acted in a wanton, fraudulent, reckless, oppressive, or malevolent manner.”
Legally speaking, the unauthorized withholding of these travel documents is also a form of coercion that is penalized as one of the prohibited acts under Republic Act. No. 8042, as amended by R.A. 10022, otherwise known as “Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995.”
The State is mandated to protect seafarers from all threats and coercion done through the confiscation, retention, or withholding of their travel documents such passports and Seafarers Identification and Record Book (SIRB), which are considered the property of the State.
Agencies and foreign principals found violating POEA rules will be blacklisted or penalized in accordance with R.A. 10022. POEA rules likewise provide that disciplinary actions will be meted against those found violating Philippine laws, rules, and regulations on overseas employment.
The persons criminally liable for the said offense are the principals, accomplices and accessories. In case of juridical persons, the officers having ownership, control, management or direction of their business and the responsible for the commission of the offense and the responsible employees/agents thereof shall be liable.
Any person found guilty of illegal recruitment shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of not less than twelve (12) years and one (1) day but not more than twenty (20) years and a fine of not less than one million pesos nor more than two million pesos.
In every case, conviction shall cause and carry the automatic revocation of the license or registration of the recruitment/manning agency, lending institutions, training school or medical clinic.
Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail [email protected] or call 09175025808 or 09088665786
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