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Seafarers’ protection bill okayed

CONGRESS has adopted the Senate version of the proposed Seafarers Protection Act designed to look after the welfare of Filipino seafarers and their families.

Angkla Party-list Rep. Jesulito Manalo, author of the original  House Bill 5268  said he was  hoping that President Benigno Aquino III would prioritize the approval of the   Senate Bill 2835  into law.

The bill’s enactment into law is vital because of the numerous and alarming stories about deleterious practices of some lawyers or or other individuals who charge seafarers  with “unconscionable” legal fees  ranging  from 30 percent to  60 percent, he noted.

“Seafarers working on-board international fleets are known to be awarded hefty compensation and benefit packages by reason of the risk to their lives while working in the high seas. This situation then makes a seafarer an easy target for ambulance chasing, with legal practitioners having considerable interest in the monetary benefits that one may claim, and eventually be awarded,” he pointed out.

Angkla party-list takes up the cudgels for the seafarers whose hefty compensation package makes them target of unscrupulous lawyers.

On Dec. 15, 2014, the House of Representatives passed the measure while the Senate gave its green light only last Sept. 21.

Congress adopted the Senate version on Sept. 30.

Manalo, the lone representative of the maritime sector, initiated the bill to protect Filipino seafarers’ labor claims arising from their illnesses, accidents, or in worst cases, even death, against unconscionable legal fees imposed and collected by unscrupulous individuals.

Under the adopted version, “It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in ambulance chasing or the act of soliciting, personally or through an agent, from seafarers, or their heirs, the pursuit of any claim against their employers for the purpose of recovery of monetary claim or benefit, including legal interest, arising from accident, illness or death, in exchange of an amount or fee which shall be retained or deducted from the monetary claim or benefit granted to or awarded to the seafarer or their heirs.”

“When any contract or arrangement between a seafarer or his/her heirs, and a person who appears for or represents them in any case for recovery of monetary claim or benefit, including legal interest, arising from accident, illness or death before the National Labor Relations Commission or any labor arbiter, the National Conciliation and Mediation Board, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, the Department of Labor and Employment    or its regional offices, or other quasi-judicial bodies handling labor disputes stipulates that the person who appears for or represents them shall be entitled to fees, such fees shall not exceed ten percent (10%) of the compensation or benefit awarded to the seafarer or his/her heirs.”

“In order to seriously curb the unreasonable imposition of these fees, the bill imposes a cap on the total fees that lawyers or persons representing the seafarer may collect, to an amount not exceeding 10 percent of the benefit awarded to the seafarer or his family,” Manalo raised.

Manalo, a lawyer himself, clarified that “while the code of Professional Responsibility of Lawyers prohibits ambulance chasing, no statutory provision exists which totally, directly, and expressly prohibits this abominable practice in the enforcement of labor rights.”

“There is a real sense of urgency to rectify the problem on ambulance chasing. Thus, to put teeth into the law, parties found in violation of the statute shall be meted a penalty of a fine of not less than P50,000 but not more than P100,000, or by imprisonment of one year but not more than two years, or both, at the discretion of the courts,” he said.

He said the measure would benefit tens of thousands of seafarers and their dependents, and that its importance must not be taken for granted.

“The truth is, the adverse effects of ambulance chasing cascade down to the people and our economy,” he added.

Sadly, Manalo explained, ambulance chasers go at lengths to push seafarers to file labor cases against their foreign employers, claiming for benefits even beyond the claims they are actually entitled to.

“This then leads foreign ship owners to no longer re-employ Filipino seafarers, likewise risking the possible decline, if not loss, of the annual billion-dollar remittances they bring into the country’s economy,” he cited.

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