Seafarers Protection Act, a legislative milestone
|ANGKLA Party-list Rep. Jesulito A. Manalo|
The newly signed Law, initiated by ANGKLA, fundamentally seeks to safeguard 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.
Noting the numerous alarming stories about the deleterious practice of some lawyers and/or other individuals who charge seafarers unconscionable legal fees from a range of 30% to a soar of 60% led ANGKLA to persistently move for the bill’s immediate passage, Manalo said.
Seafarers working on-board international fleets are known to be awarded hefty compensation and benefit packages by reason of the many risks involved while they work in high seas. This in turn makes seafarers easy prey for ambulance chasing, with legal practitioners having considerable interest in their monetary benefits, he added.
“While the Code of Professional Responsibility of Lawyers prohibits ambulance chasing, there is no direct statutory provision which expressly prohibits this abominable practice,” the principal author said.
Rectifying this gap, the new law then makes it unlawful for individuals to engage in ambulance chasing who, through questionable schemes take undue advantage of seafarers in their legal pursuit for injuries and sickness benefits. In order to seriously curb the unreasonable imposition of these fees, the measure now puts a cap on the total fees that lawyers or persons representing the seafarer may collect, to an amount not exceeding 10% of the benefit awarded to the seafarer or his family.
An individual found to be in violation of the new 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 2 years, or both fine and imprisonment.
On a national scale, Manalo said, Filipino seafarers onboard international fleets, have greatly contributed to the country’s social economic progress, so that in 2014 alone, their contributions amounted to USD5.6 billion out of the USD24.3 billion dollars aggregate OFW remittances or more than 20% thereof.
Thus, the ANKLA Law finds greater relevance, as Hon. Manalo expounded: “[t]he truth is, the adverse effects of ambulance chasing cascade down to the people and our economy. Sadly, 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 maritime professionals, and this possible decline in these employment opportunities can lead to the reduction, if not loss of the annual billion dollar remittances they bring into the country.”