Monday, January 14, 2019, 3:20 p.m.
By Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho
The escrow provision in the proposed Magna Carta for Filipino seafarers violates the constitutional guarantee on equal protection.
The Joint Manning Group is pushing for the inclusion of an escrow provision which is a mere dilatory tactic in the execution of the seafarers’ monetary awards.
The provision, in essence, aimed to amend the labor code that will have a significant impact on labor claims governing the immediately “final and executory” nature of decisions issued by National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB).
The manning agencies echoed ANGKLA’s rationale for an earlier Bill to ensure the restitution of monetary awards in case the appropriate appellate court annuls or partially or totally reverses the monetary judgment award.
There is an invalid classification that runs counter to the Constitutional provision which provides that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.” ( Article II, Section 1)
The guarantee of this constitutional right of equal protection shall mean that all persons or things similarly situated should be treated alike, both as to rights conferred and responsibilities imposed
Class legislation is such legislation which denies rights to one which are accorded to others or inflicts upon one individual a more severe penalty than is imposed upon another in like case offending. (Executive Secretary v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 131719, May 25, 2004)
The Supreme Court elucidated upon the concept of equal protection of the laws in the case of Nuñez v. Sandiganbayan, (197 Phil. 407 ):
“xxx that the laws operate equally and uniformly on all persons under similar circumstances or that all persons must be treated in the same manner, the conditions not being different, both in the privileges conferred and the liabilities imposed. Favoritism and undue preference cannot be allowed. For the principle is that equal protection and security shall be given to every person under circumstances which, if not identical, are analogous. If law be looked upon in terms of burden or charges, those that fall within a class should be treated in the same fashion, whatever restrictions cast on some in the group equally binding on the rest.”
Legislative bodies are allowed to classify the subjects of legislation. If the classification is reasonable, the law may operate only on some and not all of the people without violating the equal protection clause. The classification must, as an indispensable requisite, not be arbitrary.
To be valid, it must conform to the following requirements: (1) It must be based on substantial distinctions; (2) It must be germane to the purposes of the law; (3) It must not be limited to existing conditions only and (4) It must apply equally to all members of the class. (People v. Cayat, G.R. No. L-45987, May 5, 1939),
If passed into law with said provision, the Magna Carta will partake of the nature of class legislation because it singles out seafarer claims from other labor claims, both local and overseas.
The requirement that classification must be based on substantial distinctions has not been complied with. There lies no substantial distinction between the claims a seafarer and any other laborers.
The provision makes a rash generalization that cases filed by lawyers in the seafaring practice are merely after financial gain, and not to protect the seafarer’s rights, all based on an unsubstantiated and likewise unfair generalization to the effect that all lawyers in the seafaring practice are ambulance chasers.
In the same vein, the provision should highlight the fact that the act of ambulance chasing transcends other fields of practice, and is not solely found in the seafaring practice.
The provision is unduly oppressive, unreasonable, and is repugnant to the Constitution. It undermines the mandate of the Constitution to protect the rights of overseas workers and to promote their welfare when it deprive such seafarers an avenue to receive the fruits of his legal battle.
The proposed legislation is the reverse of the constitutional mandate and the declared policies of RA No. 8042, as amended by R.A. 100022 as it unreasonably downplays the seafarers’ rights guaranteed by the constitution instead of protecting the rights and promoting their welfare.
In what appears to be a virtuous objective of protecting Filipino seafarers, the inclusion of said escrow provision will go beyond such benevolent objective at the expense of curtailing their rights.
(Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)