The politics of seafarer’s Money claims

Atty. Gorecho



An anti-seafarer bill might be refiled by ANGKLA Partylist during the next Congress if it will be reelected in office, a bill that  is clearly a mere dilatory tactic to stop the labor/  seafarers   from getting what is rightfully due them.


With  House Bill  No. 5430, the seafarer   will wait for longer years before they receive the award by the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB), mostly  for cases involving monetary claims involving disability and death benefits, illegal dismissal as well as unpaid or underpayment of salaries and wages. 


Through HB 5430, ANGKLA  aimed to amend the labor code that will have significant impact on labor claims governing the immediately “final and executory” nature of decisions issued by NLRC/NCMB.  


ANGKLA proposes that to ensure the restitution of monetary awards in case the appropriate appellate court annuls or partially or totally reverses the monetary judgment, the proceeds of execution shall be deposited in an escrow account with an escrow agent designated by the NLRC  or the NCMB. The proceeds shall remain in escrow until such time the finality of the decision issued by the appropriate appellate court is obtained.. The proceeds shall only be released after issuance of an entry of judgment by the appropriate appellate court and upon issuance by the NLRC or the NCMB, after motion of the proper party, of an order authorizing the release of proceeds of execution. The order authorizing the release of the amount deposited in escrow shall be deemed final.


ANGKLA pointed out that the amendment is proper as the problem of the immediately “final and executory” nature of decisions gains greater relevance considering the following factors: (a) the complainant will insist on the execution of the NLRC or NCMB decision despite the appeal; (b) even if the appellate courts overturn or modify the NLRC or NCMB decision, there is little hope of recovering anything through restitution; (c) more legal costs and expenses will be incurred in pursuing the case through the appellate courts and in applying for restitution of the judgment award. 


Every labor dispute involves two opposing parties:  the worker on one side and the management on the other.  And this bill, definitely, is not in favor of labor, proposed by a partylist that projects itself as a protector of seafarers’ interest, and labor as a whole. It is obviously a bill that seeks to protect more the respondent companies rather than the seafarers’ themselves. 


Away from his family and working on board vessels sailing non-stop for weeks or months the world’s oceans, he is mentally and emotionally stressed. Constantly exposed to fluctuating temperatures caused by variant weather changes of extreme hot and cold as the ships cross ocean boundaries, not to mention harsh weather conditions, the risks of his getting killed, injured or ill are high. As if working under these difficult conditions are not enough, when he sustains injury, illness or lose his life, seldom does he receive full compensation provided under the law because his employer does not hesitate to harness its immense resources to limit its liability. 


 In most instances, workers run after benefits that are denied to them. Labor litigation takes years before it reaches the supreme court. In most cases, the elevation of the records alone from the NLRC/NCMB to the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court will take several years. The proceedings in the appellate court will entail further delay.  In cases of seafarers with medical conditions, some incur huge debts to sustain their medication. Others die before the decision by the Supreme Court is released. 


The scenario envisioned by ANGKLA will be analogous to situations described by the the Supreme Court where “the judgment becomes illusory..” (Corona International, Inc. v. Court of Appeals,343 SCRA 512)  In one instance, the Supreme Court lamented that   the claimant “has grown old with the case. He fears he may no longer be in this world when the case is finally decided.” (Borja vs.  Court of Appeals, 196 SCRA 847)  The prevailing party might  be unable to enjoy  the judgment award  after the lapse of time, considering the tactics of the adverse party who may have no recourse but to delay. (Intramuros Tennis Club, Inc. v. Philippine Tourism Authority,341 SCRA 90; Yasuda v. Court of Appeals, 330 SCRA 385)

The reason is simple. An application for a writ of execution and its issuance could be delayed for numerous reasons. A mere continuance or postponement of a scheduled hearing, for instance, or an inaction on the part of the Labor Arbiter or the NLRC could easily delay the issuance of the writ thereby setting at naught the strict mandate and noble purpose envisioned by  the labor code (Pioneer Texturizing Corp. v.  NLRC, 280 SCRA 806, 816.)


In cases of execution pending appeal, the Supreme Court underscored that ” the law itself has laid down a compassionate policy which, once more, vivifies and enhances the provisions of the 1987 Constitution on labor and the working man. . . . These duties and responsibilities of the State are imposed not so much to express sympathy for the workingman as to forcefully and meaningfully underscore labor as a primary social and economic force, which the Constitution also expressly affirms with equal intensity. Labor is an indispensable partner for the nation’s progress and stability” ( Aris (Phil.) Inc. vs. NLRC, 200 SCRA 246) 


In essence, ANGKLA has consistently echoed the arguments posed by the manning agencies that “labor cases pose a threat to international employment of  Filipino seafarers”. Such issue was already touched upon by the Supreme Court in the case of Vir-Jen Shipping vs. NLRC  (210 Phil  482), in the following manner:  

“This is not the first time and it will not be the last where the threat of unemployment and loss of jobs would be used to argue against the interests of labor; where efforts by workingmen to better their terms of employment would be characterized as prejudicing the interests of labor as a whole. xxxx The same arguments have greeted every major advance in the rights of the workingman. And they have invariably been proved unfounded and false. Xxx Unionism, employers’ liability acts, minimum wages, workmen’s compensation, social security and collective bargaining to name a few were all initially opposed by employers and even well meaning leaders of government and society as “killing the hen or goose which lays the golden eggs.” The claims of workingmen were described as outrageously injurious not only to the employer but more so to the employees themselves before these claims or demands were established by law and jurisprudence as “rights” and before these were proved beneficial to management, labor, and the nation as a whole beyond reasonable doubt. xxx  If any minor advantages given to Filipino seamen may somehow cut into the profits of local manning agencies and foreign shipowners, that is not sufficient reason why the NSB or the NLRC should not stand by the former instead of listening to unsubstantiated fears that they would be killing the hen which lays the golden eggs.”

In the proposed bill that aims to delay in execution, it  becomes a tool of oppression and inequity to the prejudice of labor, and the seafarer to be specific. Due to the longer years that they have to wait, without any leverage in prosecuting his monetary claims, chances are, the employee/ seafarer bows to the demand of his employer to either drop his claim or accept a small settlement. 

In the end, such legislative act runs in contradiction to the constitutional provision  that says “The State affirms labor as a primary social economic force. It shall protect the rights of workers and promote their welfare.” (Art. II, Sec. 18, Constitution, 1987.). 

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