Magna carta should expand, and not limit, the seafarers’ rights

By: ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO - Columnist/CDN Digital | November 28,2023 - 08:00 AM

Seafarers will be ‘penalized’ by the escrow provision that will downplay their rights guaranteed by the constitution instead of protecting and promoting their welfare.

With the upcoming bicameral committee meetings on the proposed Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers, the Senate must stand firm on its version on the non-inclusion of the controversial escrow provision.

The escrow provision 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). The contested amounts shall remain in escrow until such time the finality of the decision issued by the appropriate appellate court is obtained.

During the interpellations for Senate Bill No. 2221 from August 23 to September 11, 2023, Senator Raffy Tulfo made assurances that the Senate version will not  include the  escrow provision.

There was also no mention of its inclusion during the period of amendment from September 25 to 27, 2023.

The Senate approved on second and third readings on September 27, 2023 without the escrow 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 No. 7325) that contains the escrow provision.

The next stage is the action of the bicameral conference committee that is tasked mainly to settle, reconcile or thresh out differences or disagreements on any provision of the bill that each chamber has approved.

The proposed Magna Carta seeks to implement the standards set by MLC2006 to ensure protection  and welfare of Filipino seafarers by recognizing their rights, instituting mechanisms for its enforcement.

However, it  will be  a watered-down Magna Carta in the event that the final version will include the escrow provision.

The proponents recently changed the term “escrow” into “fiduciary deposit” in the latest version of the provision.

The escrow provision violates the constitutional guarantee on equal protection since it will partake of the nature of class legislation because it singles out seafarer claims from other labor claims, both local and overseas.

An OFW money claims case will take an average of 7.2 years  to go through the entire judicial process from the date of filing of the complaint in the NLRC up to the time the Supreme Court decides on it.

The seafarer will wait for longer years before they receive the NLRC/NCMB award if the proposed escrow provision will be included.

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.

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.

The Magna Carta should be for the Filipino Seafarers, not for those whom the law sought to protect them from abuses and violations of their rights.

It is also not germane to the purpose of the law since it protects the rights of the employer and not the employee.

Proponents are throwing off-balance the already imbalanced legal battle on seafarers’ claims as every labor dispute is a David and Goliath situation.

The reversal rates in the Court of Appeals (28 percent) and Supreme Court (30 percent) cannot overshadow the fact that almost 70 percent of decisions of the appealed voluntary arbitration cases are affirmed in favor of labor.

The numbers contradict the sweeping allegations that most cases are “frivolous” and are associated with “ambulance chasers” or lawyers who go to lengths to push seafarers to file labor cases against their foreign employers.

If the provision that aims to delay in execution will be included, the proposed Magna Carta becomes a tool of oppression and inequity to the prejudice of the seafarer.

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.

A provision that will adversely affect a seafarer’s cause in whatever manner or nature has no place in a legal document that should be for their protection in the first place.

The pending Magna Carta must be the translation into reality of President  Magsaysay’s wisdom: “He who has less in life should have more in law”.

The magna carta should expand, and not limit, the seafarers’ rights.

Seafarers must be vigilant against a watered-down magna carta.

(Atty. Dennis R. 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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TAGS: House Bill No. 7325, Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers, Senate Bill No. 2221

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