A partylist lawmaker representing the seafarers’ sector in the Congress has hailed as a “legislative milestone” the signing into law of a measure which aims to protect Filipino mariners from exorbitant legal fees when collecting monetary benefits from their employers.
Rep. Jesulito Manalo of the partylist group ANGKLA said the signing by President Benigno Aquino III of Republic Act 10706 shields seafarers from unscrupulous lawyers who represent them and charge fees equivalent to up to 60 percent of the monetary benefits due them.
Known as “ambulance chasers,” this kind of lawyers prey on seafarers and their families who are pursuing benefit claims from employers in cases of illness, accident, or death.
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.
"Barely two months after being sworn into office in 2013, we started our quest for the protection of seafarers' rights, particularly with respect to their monetary claims. The November 26th signing into law of RA 10706 is truly a legislative milestone for the seafaring sector," said Manalo.
Manalo is a partylist ally of the National Unity Party (NUP) under the Coalition for Peace and Development.
“Sadly, ambulance chasers go to 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," he said.
While the Code of Professional Responsibility of Lawyers prohibits ambulance chasing, there is no direct statutory provision which expressly prohibits this “abominable practice,” Manalo noted. “ Thus, the need to pass this law."
To put a stop to this ambulance-chasing practice, the law places 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.
Those found violating the law’s provisions shall be fined not less than P50,000 but not more than P100,000, or penalized with imprisonment of one year but not more than two years, or both.
In 2014 alone, Filipino seafarers onboard international fleets contributed USD5.6 billion or more than 20 percent of the USD24.3 billion aggregate OFW remittances for that year.