Blame-shifting in Seafarer’s labor cases

“Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo.”  Never mind if the seafarer dies before he receives compensation. A popular Filipino saying that applies directly to the possible  legal effect of ANGKLA’s  bill (House Bill No. 5430) that seeks to delay the execution of  the favorable judgment from the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB).

In most cases for disability compensation, some incur huge debts to sustain their medication while others die before the decision by the Supreme Court is released. And yet ANGKLA insists that the aim of the bill is “to balance the interest” of  the seafarer and the employer as  “there is little hope of recovering anything through restitution.” In reality,  employers  have the legal remedies to recover the amount, but one cannot reclaim the life of the deceased seafarer.

Worse, ANGKLA has employed the art of deception in sanitizing the real picture  that the seafarers are victims of the employers’ abuses  when it authored the  Republic Act 10706 , or the  Seafarers’ Protection Act. Call it the game of “blameshifting”, ANGKLA has diverted  attention from the real violator’s of seafarers’ rights  by discrediting the lawyers who ANGKLA   accused of having considerable interest in the seafarer’s  monetary benefits.

Lest we   forget, seafarers are forced to go to court because the employers  violated their legal rights first. Every  labor dispute is a David and Goliath battle as  it  involves two opposing parties:  the worker on one side and the management on the other, for  monetary claims for  disability and death benefits, illegal dismissal as well as unpaid or underpayment of salaries and wages

In illegal dismissal incidents,  the POEA contract requires compliance with  two basic requirements for a lawful dismissal: a just or authorized case as prescribed by law (substantive requirement), and observance of due process. Many are sent home due to unfounded accusations and without the proper notices given.

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 due to company’s  legal maneuverings by  using  the POEA  contract  that contains terms and conditions formulated more favorable to his employer and is littered with ambiguous provisions, generalizations, technicalities that he does not understand.

In many instances, he signs Receipt and Quitclaim documents thereby  releasing his employers from all claims, demands and causes of action without even understanding their contents. Oftentimes, he is misled into accepting an exgratia, miniscule amount, in the guise that his condition is either not work-connected, or for any other reason for which he does not comprehend. Compensation claims are either denied or downgraded   due to the biased medical opinion of the company designated  physician.

More often than not, he knows that he is being cheated of his rights, but how can he question his employer in these instances, without the assistance of competent lawyer of his own choosing?

Instead of addressing the above issues by giving seafarers more access in compensation benefits, R.A. No. 10706 will   deprive him of an avenue to avail of legal services of competent lawyers, which he can voluntarily enter into, are therefore,  antagonistic to his interests, rendering him defenseless against the abuses of his employers.  They will, in effect, obstruct the effective and efficient administration of justice.

Seafarers should not be deceived by the misleading projection of the  law which employed the “scare tactic” to discourage seafarers from engaging the legal services of lawyers by depicting the latter as vultures. By charging even eleven percent (11%) of the amount recoverable, or one percent higher than the ten percent (10%) limit,  is not “abusive” per legal practice standard. Yet, ANGKLA used as “papogi” points its deceptive concern towards the seafarers. In the end, the legislative act intends to protect business interest from the cases filed by seafarers deprived of their rights under contract and the law rather than give more access to the seafarers for rightful compensation.

When a seafarer is forced to go to engage the services of a lawyer, employers   do not hesitate to harness its immense resources to  escape from  or limit its liability. When he wins, the employer, in order give a semblance of sympathy, will use the Seafarer’s Protection Act to say “I care for you. Your lawyer should get only ten percent.”  Ironically,  ANGKLA’s escrow bill  is anti-seafarer since it is a  dilatory tactic wherein he  will not immediately get what is rightfully due to him. Never mind if the seafarer dies before the decision, as long as the employer’s interest is also protected by ANGKLA’s escrow bill.

Without any leverage in prosecuting his monetary claims, chances are, he bows to the demand of his employer to either drop his claim or accept a small settlement.  If he has enough pride and heart, and there are only a few who fall in this category, his only recourse is the exercise of his right, guaranteed by the due process clause of our Constitution, to engage the legal services of attorneys of his choice.  With good, experienced, professional lawyers, he will be able to prosecute his monetary claim in a level playing field.

It is election time again. Be critical of the real colors. 


Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho  is a graduate of UP College of Law (1998)  and  is currently a junior partner of Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan (SVBB) law offices  who heads the seafarers’ division. He is a  speaker on  nationwide paralegal seminars on  seafarers rights.  He is presently the executive vice president of the Maritime Law Association of the Philippines (MARLAW),  and an active  member of the Maritime Forum Inc. , the National Seafarers Day (NSD) committee and International Pro Bono Network. The SVBB law works hand in hand with various seafarers welfare  organizations such as the Apostleship of the Seas (AOS) Philippines, Luneta Seafarers Welfare Foundation (LUSWELF) and United Filipino Seafarers (UFS) . He is a legal commentator on maritime issues on print, radio and TV. A co-anchor of the radio program Bantay OCW Usapang Marino aired over Radio Inquirer/ DZIQ every Wednesday 10:30am to 12noon. For comments, please send  email  at or call  09175025808/ 09088665786.

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